Ed Collins, Plant Operations Director for Cranston Public Schools, believes it’s time to do a mass educational plan with community involvement based on the recent Jacobs report on the infrastructure of school buildings throughout the state.
The Rhode Island Department of Education requires that each school district submit a five-year capital improvement plan, according to Collins, that provides solutions to building infrastructure and educational issues, from the building itself to the materials teachers have at their disposal.
He thinks a plan should drafted not only by the Cranston School Committee but by members of the community as well.
“It’s time to do a master educational plan where we get the community together and they drive the boat on what they want schools to look like,” he said.
In addition to the community meetings, there will be in-school visits where parents rate the school, based on factors like proper lighting, whether it’s child-friendly, what kind of educational environment it provides, and if their children are partaking in project-based learning, he said.
Collins oversees the infrastructure plans for all Cranston public schools, and he compared the buildings to a car.
“Do we keep investing or do we make a change?” he asked. “Our plan would hit more on the ability of the building to be a twenty first century learning environment – it’s more than just maintenance.”
It’s an issue that most schools throughout the state face after the findings of the Jacobs report, which is that schools aren’t in great shape and need to be consolidated, fixed, or replaced. Cranston isn’t immune. In July Casey Morris, from the Jacobs architecture/engineering firm, and David Sturtz, from cooperative Strategies, told the City Council that if the school district were to remedy all of its problems, the cost would be $189,624,574.
Collins noted that this focuses more on long-term investments, so it’s more money than it would be to fix any immediate problems. But even if there aren’t immediate needs like broken boilers or leaking roofs, Collins said, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“Even if it’s $90 million, a plan needs to be made.”
Collins wants to educate the community and develop a plan in conjunction with them.
He said that Cranston needs to decide how they want to move forward in the wake of the report, and the best way to effectively do so is to start with a blank slate and work with members of the community to devise the best way to address the school buildings.
Members of the community, he said, can be anyone who has a stake in Cranston schools, from parents of students, to elected officials, to real estate owners whose property values are affected by schools in the area. Collins stressed that parents should be a big part of the meetings.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s more important for the people who have a real vested stake, not just the ones paying taxes but the ones who have children, to be a big part of the process,” he said.
These community meetings to discuss how Cranston should move forward aren’t going to happen anytime soon, granted, and specific details still need to be worked out, but when they do it will be a “long process, maybe six to eight months,” according to the Plan Operations Director.
After the meetings, which will consist of school evaluations and discussion on how to improve Cranston schools, the school committee and the city will make the final decisions on the plan.
“Nothing is predetermined right now,” Collins said. “The beauty is that a community group will decide where it goes from here. We need to invest a lot of time, seeing that we’re going to be investing a lot of money in the schools.”