standing Westerly Town Hall

WESTERLY — The Town Council is fully behind the School Committee's plan to again engage in the state Department of Education's school building process.

The council voted 7-0 Monday to lend its approval to the request to submit a Stage 1 application to the education department. The application functions as an announcement of the School Committee and its Building Subcommittee's intent to enter into RIDE's Necessity of School Construction Process. The School Committee had previously voted unanimously to go forward with the Stage 1 application.

Joseph DeSanti, a project director with the Downes Construction Co., of New Britain, Conn., confirmed that the Stage 1 application will not include a specific building plan but instead will describe the condition of existing school facilities and provide other data. The application, if approved, will put the district in line for potential reimbursement from RIDE. Downes Construction Co. was hired by the School Committee to serve as the owner's project manager on the building project.

While all school districts qualify for at least 35% reimbursement of what the state calls housing aid for school building projects, bonus incentives provide additional reimbursement based on project specifications. Submitting the Stage 1 application, which is due today, now will put the town in the running for the bonus incentive reimbursements, which are scheduled to expire and may or may not be renewed in the future, DeSanti.

"There is a potential for loss of bonus incentives because they do sunset," DeSanti said.

Justin Hopkins, Building Subcommittee chairman, reemphasized the subcommittee's plan.

"We are not intending to chase reimbursement dollars, but we want to be able to hold open the space for if we qualify for them we would have that available for the town," Hopkins said.

The subcommittee plans to conduct public information and input sessions beginning in October. The sessions will include soliciting information and views from residents and other citizens to determine priorities. The subcommittee will incorporate the input to modify its two preferred options or to develop a new proposal, Hopkins said.

In April, after reviewing numerous plans for several months, the Building Subcommittee put forth two potential projects as worthy of further study. The two recommended projects, known as Option 10 and Option 13, would each involve moving Grade 8 out of Westerly Middle School and into Babcock Hall at Westerly High School. Option 10 calls for renovations or additions to Dunn's Corners and Springbrook elementary schools for K-3; use of Westerly Middle School for grades 4-7; and upgrades to district athletic facilities as outlined in the municipal Recreation Master Plan.

Option 13 calls for demolishing a portion of State Street Elementary School and retaining part of the school for pre-K and district administrative offices, which are currently in Babcock Hall. The plan also calls for expanded use of the State Street School gymnasium by the community and establishment of community gardens there. Springbrook and Dunn's Corners elementary schools would be renovated to accommodate grades K-3, and Westerly Middle School would be renovated and would serve grades 4-7. Augeri Field and the track, both at Westerly High School, would also be improved.

Ideally, a final proposed building plan will be selected in December and included as part of a Stage II application to RIDE, Hopkins said. The final plan will include cost estimates including furnishings, fixtures, equipment  and technology. The Town Council has set a $50 million borrowing cap for the project.

Residents voted down a proposed $38.5 million school building project in 2016 and a $71.4 million project that qualified for a reimbursement rate of about 50% in 2019. In 2019 the council was split on whether to endorse submission of a Stage 1 application.

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