standing Westerly Town Hall

WESTERLY — A member of the Town Council who recently announced his intention to resign from the School Building Subcommittee is being asked to reconsider his decision.

Councilor Brian McCuin, during the council's Nov. 22 meeting, said he planned to resign from the subcommittee because he did not "want to work with people like that." McCuin pointed to comments made by members of the School Committee and Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau during a Nov. 10 meeting of the School Committee as the reason for his resignation.

During the School Committee meeting several parents spoke out in opposition to the two proposed building projects that are currently under consideration by the committee's School Building Subcommittee. The parents were mostly focused on parts of the two plans that would involve moving the eighth grade out of Westerly Middle School and into Babcock Hall on the Westerly High School campus. Some of the parents said a new building should be part of the project, which is intended to mostly focus on the town's elementary school buildings.

On Tuesday, Garceau said that when he spoke during the Nov. 10 meeting he intended to let members of the School Committee and residents know that the subcommittee would benefit from knowing which proposals have support rather than risking a third failed project proposal. Voters rejected projects in 2016 and 2019.

Additionally, Garceau said, he tried to convey the varying ideas he has heard from residents.

"I was trying to map out all the different scenarios that I've heard from people as we try to come to consensus about what plan to follow," Garceau said.

The ideas or scenarios, Garceau said, include waiting for a new Town Council rather than working under the current council's $50 million project borrowing cap, or waiting until  2026 when the town is expected to be in a better position to borrow.

While he said he did not mean to personally criticize the Town Council, Garceau said, it might make sense to discuss the  $50 million cap in light of recent drastic increases in construction costs. The School Committee might also have to ask the council whether it would support a project that included extensive renovations to State Street Elementary School and a "maintenance in place" approach at other schools in the district.

"I don't know whether that would be called a new build for $35 million. It's hard to know how to proceed," Garceau said.

McCuin, during the Nov. 22 meeting, said he was put off by Garceau's comments about waiting for a new Town Council rather than working under the $50 million borrowing cap. McCuin also pointed to comments by School Committee members including one member saying the committee was being "hamstrung" by the council and its borrowing cap. Two School Committee members encouraged parents to organize and communicate with the council.

McCuin said he volunteered to serve on the School Building Subcommittee after the 2019 project failed as a means to help bring the council and the School Committee together to work on a new project rather than dwell on previous bad feelings between members of the two elected bodies.

"We all got together and said 'Listen if we want something to pass we have to work together,'" McCuin said.

After the comments that he said he read in The Sun, McCuin said he asked himself, "Why am I bothering?"

As for the borrowing cap, McCuin said, "I think we approved the $50 million cap because at that time that is what we thought we could afford," McCuin said.

Garceau shared an e-mail he sent to McCuin asking him to stay on the Building Subcommittee and offering to speak with him.

"At the last building subcommittee meeting I did clarify that my comments were not meant as a knock on anyone. They were me trying to communicate to our parents that there are only so many options available to us and if they won't get behind any of them we will continue to get nothing accomplished," a portion of Garceau's e-mail said.

McCuin could not be reached for comment for this article.

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