standing Westerly Town Hall

WESTERLY — The School Building Subcommittee has settled on two proposals to recommend to the School Committee, both of which would see eighth-graders moving from the middle school to the high school.

The subcommittee voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend the two plans and a possible third one that could be a hybrid of ideas submitted by residents. Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau, during the meeting, said he was likely to soon recommend to the School Committee moving eighth grade to the Babcock Hall at the high school regardless of whether the subcommittee settled on an option that included the initiative.

Garceau has said he is hopeful moving the eighth grade into the high school might help the district's effort to keep Westerly students in Westerly rather than having them choose to attend Chariho High School for vocational programs offered there.

The subcommittee's decision on its recommendations follows the Town Council's adoption of a resolution stating the council would only support projects that require borrowing no more than $50 million.

The two recommended plans were submitted by residents — one by Jen Brinton, who served on a committee that studied potential building projects in 2014, and one by Kristen Sweeney, a former school teacher who filled an unexpired term on the School Committee from November 2019 until November 2020.

Brinton's plan calls for renovations or additions to Dunn's Corner and Springbrook elementary schools for K-3, relocation of grades 4-7 to Westerly Middle School, relocation of Grade 8 to Westerly High School and upgrades to district athletic facilities as outlined in the municipal Recreation Master Plan. Brinton's plan also proposes moving pre-K students to the former Bradford Elementary School, but subcommittee members said they did not favor that aspect.

Sweeney's plan 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. Her plan also calls for renovations of Springbrook and Dunn's Corners elementary schools to accommodate grades K-3, and renovations to Westerly Middle School for grades 4-6. Sweeney's plan also calls for moving grades 7 and 8 to Babcock Hall. Augeri Field and the track, both at Westerly High School, would also be improved under Sweeney's plan.

Garceau, on Tuesday, said he did not believe moving both Grade 7 and Grade 8 students to Babcock Hall was feasible.

Brinton's plan is estimated to cost about $45.15 million and Sweeney's plan is estimated to cost about $54.25 million. The cost estimates are preliminary figures developed on rough concepts for the projects. Justin Hopkins, subcommittee chairman and an architect by trade, noted that construction material and projects costs have increased substantially since January. Brian McCuin, a member of the subcommittee and a builder by trade, agreed.

Officials expect a school building project will qualify for state reimbursement of at least 35% of the cost, but the Town Council's cap does not consider reimbursement.

Garceau said he recently walked through the high school with Westerly High School Principal Michael Hobin and Westerly Middle School Principal Paula Fusco with an eye toward moving Grade 8 to the high school. "There are a lot of reasons why it holds a lot of potential from my standpoint," Garceau said.

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