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Westerly school redesign panel to offer several alternatives

WESTERLY — The Schools Redesign Advisory Committee has asked for more time to complete its research and present recommendations on the possible consolidation of the district’s schools.

In addition to receiving an update on that assessment, members of the School Committee last week heard a report on an evaluation of the district’s elementary school playgrounds. The two issues must be considered together, because while a number of urgent repairs must be undertaken to make the playgrounds safe, the extent of other, less pressing improvements is contingent on which schools will remain open.

Jennifer Brinton, chairwoman of the advisory panel, and Dick Smith, the vice chairman, said they needed more time to process the wealth of information they had gathered and narrow the district’s choices to a manageable handful. Rather than in September, as expected, she said, “Looking at the calendar and vacations and things like that, we started talking about October 15 as a more realistic date for a presentation on the different scenarios. More things have come to light.”

Smith said the committee intended to come up with a few proposals. “I think the general sense of our group is that we would say, ‘We’ve evaluated all of these. We’ve looked at the benefits of each, we’ve looked at the drawbacks of each,’ because they all have benefits and drawbacks, and then we would say, ‘Here are the three that we feel are reasonably workable.’ So we would give implementation outlines on those three,” he said.

Brinton said the committee had rejected the idea of building a new school on property acquired by the town from Mary Lucey. In a referendum on April 24, voters approved spending up to $1.3 million for the land, more than 400 acres in Bradford, which will be preserved as open space. The town closed on the deal July 15. “As part of our due diligence, we looked at the scenario of is there an opportunity to build a new school? Does it need to be on current school property? What we did was we looked at inventory in town, based on acreage which would meet the specs that we need that has not been developed,” Brinto said.

“None of these scenarios that we’re working with have that as a factor.”

The School Committee also discussed a report from a company hired last April to evaluate the playgrounds. Working with Facilities Director Matt Murphy, UltiPlay of Uxbridge, Massachusetts, visited playgrounds at State Street, Springbrook, Dunns Corner and Bradford elementary schools, and the Tower Street Community Center.

The company divided its recommended repairs into three categories or priorities. Features determined to be potentially dangerous were given “Priority One” designations.

Committee member Gina Fuller said she was concerned about the number of Priority One problems in the report, especially surfaces under swings and slides that were much lower than they should be.

“Based on this report, Priority One is any condition of the playground that is life-threatening, or can cause severe, permanent disability,” Fuller said. “The bulk of the work and the cost will be associated with re-engineering loose fill on all the playgrounds. There are places where we’re multiple feet lower than what we should be, which is why we have broken bones at some of our playgrounds.”

Superintendent Roy Seitsinger told committee members that fixing the most urgent problems would cost $5,000 per playground, or $20,000, an amount that has already been budgeted. Whether the work can be performed by town employees before school opens in September has yet to be determined.

Murphy and Peter A. Chiaradio, the town’s public works superintendent, were to discuss the work and whether the town might have to hire an outside company.

“They’re going to figure out what can be done right away, based on the budgets they have available and the manpower they have available,” Seitsinger said. “After that, based on the community discussion, they’re going to go and possibly look at secondary vendors to get some of the work done, because we feel that there may not be enough manpower to get the things done.”

Seitsinger noted that it would cost the district $100,000 per playground to do all the suggested improvements, something the district cannot consider until the matter of the school consolidation is settled. @CynthiaDrummon4

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