WESTERLY — School Committee Chairwoman Diane Chiaradio Bowdy will serve on the Building Subcommittee following a vote of the School Committee this week.

Chiaradio Bowdy was elected by a unanimous 6-0 vote Wednesday to serve on the subcommittee.

Before the decision, Chiaradio Bowdy asked for a motion to appoint a School Committee member to serve as the second co-chair of the Building Subcommittee to replace Gina Fuller, who has served as co-chair with Christine Cooke, a School Committee member, since the subcommittee was formed. The motion failed 3-3.

"We've had discussions among committee members about how the School Committee is going to drive this process going forward ... to that end I think that we should have, rather than Mrs. Fuller continue on as co-chair she could remain a committee member, but I think at this point we need a second School Committee member to co-chair and be the representative to the public," Chiaradio Bowdy said.

After asking for the motion Chiaradio Bowdy acknowledged that the move to appoint a new co-chair would require the subcommittee's approval. Cooke noted that the School Committee's bylaws call for subcommittee members to elect their own officers.

"My feeling is, it would be better if the School Committee had the reins totally...I think the School Committee needs to step up as the body in charge of this project," Chiaradio Bowdy said.

Chiaradio Bowdy and School Committee members Marianne Nardone and Tim Killam voted in favor of the motion while Cooke, Christine Piezzo and Rebecca Greene voted against it.

Fuller was a member of the School Committee when she was appointed to the subcommittee and elected co-chair but did not seek reelection to the School Committee in the November election.

The addition of Chiaradio Bowdy brings the Building Subcommittee's membership to 12, one more than the number specified by subcommittee's charter, which was established by the School Committee.

On Friday, Fuller said she hoped to remain co-chair.

"Having a community member chair or co-chair a building project has been the norm in Westerly; Joe Cugini chaired the Vision 2020 Committee," Fuller said. "When I stepped down from the School Committee, I fully intended to continue as co-chair of this important project until it is complete. It seems to make sense for the sake of project continuity and in the spirit of the community process, that I would be welcomed to remain as a lead on the project. It's unfortunate some members of the School Committee didn't see it that way. I am thankful for the continued  support of the my co-chair, the entire building committee, and my former colleagues on the School Committee for their continued support of me as a co-chair of this critically important project."

State Department of Education regulations require a minimum of eight members on building subcommittees, including the superintendent of schools, at least one member of the School Committee, the local official responsible for building maintenance, a representative of the office or body authorized by law to construct school buildings in the municipality, the school principal from the subject school, a member who has knowledge of the educational mission and function of the facility, a local budget official or member of the local finance committee, and at least one member of the community with architectural, engineering and/or construction experience to provide input relative to the effect of the project on the community and to examine building design and construction plans for reasonableness.

Fuller said, "The previous School Committee embarked on the building project in the spirit of ensuring the process was a community-based process as envisioned by RIDE. The first step was to establish a well-rounded building committee and then conduct a robust community engagement process. We believe the building committee was successful in obtaining a potential 52.5% reimbursement on the project from RIDE because of our fidelity to the community-based process," Fuller said.

Fuller also said she does not anticipate a problem with having 12 members on the Building Subcommittee.

On Friday, Chiaradio Bowdy explained her reasoning for seeking to add a School Committee member to lead the Building Subcommittee as the Oct. 8 referendum on the proposed project nears.

"Since we have Stage 2 approval we are moving on to the next phase of the project," she said in a statement e-mailed to The Sun. "The Building Subcommittee has done a great job but is simply advisory to the School Committee. We need to establish more School Committee presence on the subcommittee. As elected officials, the members of the School Committee own responsibility for the project. Building Subcommittee leadership would be strengthened and have more authority with two School Committee members as co-chairs. It's also important at this point that the subcommittee leadership be able to engage professionally and respectfully with all members of the community since we have a referendum scheduled for Oct. 8 and will need widespread support to move forward."

Plans call for a $71.4 million project including about $37.3 million to build a new two-story State Street School for the district's students in Grades 3 to 5 and razing the current State Street School building. Dunn's Corners School would be renovated for $13.5 million, Springbrook School for $7 million, Westerly High School's Ward Hall for $8.87 million and Babcock Hall for $3.87 million. District-wide security repairs that are also planned would cost $2.2 million.

The project, if approved by voters in October, would be paid for with funds borrowed through the issuance of a bond. The state Department of Education's Council on Elementary and Secondary Education approved the project for a reimbursement rate of up to 52.5% and a minimum of 35%.

dfaulkner@thewesterlysun.com 

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