Architectural firm selected to work on Westerly elementary school redesign

Architectural firm selected to work on Westerly elementary school redesign

Record-Journal
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WESTERLY — With an architectural and engineering firm selected by the School Committee, a new elementary school redesign project is underway.

On Wednesday the committee voted unanimously to enter into a contract with RGB Architects of Providence for up to $148,000 to work with the School Building Committee to develop a conceptual scope and schedule in preparation for an application under the state Department of Education’s Necessity of School Construction process.

“All of the School Committee members agree the elementary schools are in need of attention, and at this point we are taking the next step forward,” School Committee Chairwoman Diane Chiaradio Bowdy said in an interview Friday.

Voters in November rejected a $38.5 million redesign bond that would have paid for renovations and additions to Bradford, Dunn’s Corners and Springbrook schools. State Street was to be closed after work at the other schools was completed. In the months following the vote, the School Committee moved to close Bradford Elementary School.

RGB was one of four firms to respond to the School Committee’s request for proposals. The four were interviewed on July 21 by the Building Committee, which consists of School Committee members Gina Fuller and Christine Misto, Planning Board Chairman Jack Armstrong, Mark Bednarski, the town’s purchasing agent, Justin Hopkins, a parent and architect, Susan Martin, Springbrook Elementary School principal, Mike Needleman, director of facilities and maintenance for the school district, Nick Pendola, a State Street Elementary School teacher, and school Superintendent Mark Garceau.

Misto, who along with Fuller is co-chairwoman of the Building Committee, said RGB scored well on both the technical experience and the cost portion of an evaluation matrix developed by the Building Committee. She said that the firm “interviewed particularly well with favorable strategy.”

RGB received unanimous approval from the Building Committee, with one member absent and one abstaining from the vote.

The firm worked with the School Department when the school district’s Vision 2020 plan was developed in 2001, and has worked on school buildings in the Chariho district. Vision 2020 called for redesign of the elementary schools as the third phase of a building and renovation project. The first phase was the construction of Westerly Middle School, which was followed by the second phase — renovations to Westerly High School’s Babcock and Ward halls.

According to the request for proposals, the Building Committee will analyze historical district data from previous studies and facilities assessments as it works to establish a model for the elementary schools. RGB will advise the Building Committee to determine the appropriate student-enrollment number for 10 year planning. A review of existing conditions will be conducted largely through existing data and previous assessments but will include a limited amount of field work.

RGB will also assist the Building Committee as it re-evaluates previously considered options and will advise the committee on options that could include new construction, renovations, and/or additions, and consideration of the pre-K, before-school and after-school programs. The firm will also analyze options for construction including phasing, temporary relocation, capital-improvement planning, and financing models. The firm will also advise the Building Committee in selecting a final recommendation to the School Committee

The School Committee expects a letter of intent/statement of interest to be filed with the state Education Department by Oct. 1 and hopes to file a Stage 1 application in the December/January time frame.

A minimum of three public information sessions will be conducted to give taxpayers a look at site and floor plans. RGB is also expected to attend at least 10 Building Committee or School Committee meetings.

Fuller, on Friday, said she is looking forward to the work ahead.

“I believe the School Committee and the community are in agreement that the elementary schools are in need of upgrades physically and to meet the needs of a 21st-century learning environment. It is important to remember addressing the elementary schools is Phase 3 of the district’s long-term plan. It is also worth noting the state Education Department has already confirmed the necessity for school construction at our elementary schools. That need still exists,” Fuller said.

Input from a broad constituency is needed and will be sought, Fuller said.

“The School Building Committee is excited to be working together this early in the process. We are hopeful the community engages in the focus session and other planning activities. I personally hope we are able to do a better job of engaging the teachers and staff of the elementary schools more than they were engaged last time. They work in the buildings every day, they need to be part of the process,” she said.

To get a handle on why the 2016 bond failed, the School Committee conducted a survey. The results showed that most respondents favor having a school in the town’s population center and they wanted the worst conditions addressed first.

“Engaging the community and respecting and including their point of view in the final model will be the key to a successful project,” Fuller said.

An emphasis will be placed on ensuring all of the schools offer all students the same ability to learn in buildings that meet modern building and safety codes.

‘Equity for all’

Bowdy said, “The overall goal is 21st-century schools that offer an appropriate learning environment for all of our elementary schools. That means equity for all students.”

The project will also result in schools that use as much “green technology” as possible, Bowdy said.

Ideally, Bowdy said, the planning and application process will be completed in time for the 2018 election, when financing for the plan would appear as a ballot question.

However, it is currently unclear whether the project would qualify for state funding. The state Department of Education hired Cooperative Strategies and JACOBS Engineering/Architectural to evaluate and assess every school district in the state in 2016. Bowdy and some others are concerned that state funds will be directed to districts with schools in much more distress than those in Westerly.

dfaulkner@thewesterlysun.com


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