WESTERLY — The School Building Subcommittee will provide an overview of 16 plans to reviewed over the past nine months to address needs at the town's elementary schools during a presentation before the full School Committee on Wednesday.
The various plans carry a range of cost estimates from $32 million to $78.5 million. Estimates were developed using estimation criteria published by the Rhode Island Department of Education. RIDE estimates look at both construction cost per square foot as well as space standards based on the number of students in a given school.
Subcommittee Chairman Justin Hopkins said $3.3 million was added to each cost estimate to reflect the projected cost of upgrades to athletic facilities at Westerly High School and Westerly Middle School as set out in the town's recreation master plan.
Eventually the subcommittee will likely recommend a few potential projects, Hopkins told the subcommittee during its Feb. 11 meeting. But before making recommendations Hopkins said he hoped to receive input from both the School Committee and the Town Council. Hopkins will make the presentation to the School Committee and is scheduled to appear before the Town Council in March.
"Ultimately this subcommittee will make a recommendation on one or two or three plans, but I think it's beneficial get input first," Hopkins said.
Hopkins said he also hoped to get more input from residents but noted the challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on public meetings.
The estimates include the projected cost of permits and other "soft costs" and a 10% contingency, officials said. Some of the school building project cost estimates include $6 million in estimated cost of improvements needed at Westerly Middle School and $18 million in estimated cost of improvements needed at Westerly High School.
Officials expect at least 35% of project costs to be reimbursed by the state, and possibly more if incentives set out by the state are reached.
The 16 proposals all focus on improving the town's elementary schools. Some call for new buildings, while others look at alternative solutions. Nine of the proposals were submitted to the subcommittee by residents, including three former School Committee members.
The School Committee, which has the final authority on choosing a particular plan before it is sent to RIDE and then to voters who must approve borrowing, will work closely with the Town Council, said School Committee Chairwoman Diane Chiaradio Bowdy.
"While we know that choice of a plan is ultimately up to the School Committee, I envision working hand in hand with the Town Council," Chiaradio Bowdy said.
The last two plans sent to voters, one in 2016 and a second in 2019, were both rejected. Some officials believe the plans were rejected because they did not have unanimous support from members of the School Committee and Town Council.
Education officials said they would share the plans with the district's school principals to get their input.
While the RIDE process does not require school districts to settle on a final plan until a few steps into the application process, Hopkins said past experience in the town points to a need to discuss a final plan with the community early in the process.
The subcommittee is considering hiring an owner's project manager in the near future. The project manager could assist with developing more detailed cost estimates and helping the subcommittee as it works to determine recommendations.
The School Committee meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. and will begin with an executive session. The pubic portion of the committee's meeting is expected to begin around 6 p.m.
Members of the public may join the meeting online at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82080590184; or by calling 929-205 6099 or 877-853 5257 and using Meeting ID 820 8059 0184.