By JEN COWART Special to the Herald Editor's note: This is the fifth and final in a series of stories produced by Cranston Public Schools highlighting the specific projects that would be funded through a $147 million bond question going before voters on
Special to the Herald
Editor’s note: This is the fifth and final in a series of stories produced by Cranston Public Schools highlighting the specific projects that would be funded through a $147 million bond question going before voters on Nov. 3. The school bond will be question No. 2 on the ballot. This week’s spotlight school project is Eden Park Elementary School.
Eden Park was built 70 years ago in 1950, in the post-World War II era, and is much older than the statewide average of 56 years old for all public school buildings.
When walk-through tours took place in 2016 and 2018, the school received a rating of 52.65 percent on the Facility Condition Index, putting it in the “very poor” category.
It currently houses almost 300 students and thanks to a partial renovation in 2019, it is now the Cranston Public Schools’ showcase school facility.
The recent whirlwind construction project was completed just prior to the close of the 2018-19 school year and is better known as the Pathfinder Project. The partial school renovation of the intermediate wing was designed to be a “model home” of sorts, showcasing the new direction that future Cranston Public Schools facility projects will take in the years ahead, should Question 2 be approved in November.
Prior to the Pathfinder Project’s start, Ed Collins, Cranston Public Schools chief of facilities management and capital projects, outlined the reasoning behind the new philosophy of school construction and repair in Cranston, noting that the district would no longer use a short-term, Band-Aid approach.
“We’ve been spending $3 million or $4 million on school buildings every summer, not enhancing learning spaces, not enhancing teacher collaboration, not enhancing student engagement and collaboration. Nothing has been done to improve anything educational in any of our buildings,” Collins said at the time.
He then added: “We can’t address solely the roofs and windows, so we brought in [educational design firm Fielding Nair International, now known as Fielding International] to go through and evaluate every building. They went through them in the mornings with the administration and addressed the inefficiencies of the buildings, and in the afternoons they met with the students and the teachers. During the evening community meetings, they met with community partners and parents.”
The new learning community at Eden Park was officially opened in September 2019, with a daylong open house event for the general public taking place in mid-October. Immediately, the school community saw a marked increase in student attendance and engagement as students adjusted to and fell in love with the new 21st-century teaching and learning environment.
The educators who were part of the project from its initial design stages reaped the benefits of the ongoing professional development they had been receiving for the year leading up to the school construction and continued to receive after the opening of school in the fall, as they utilized their new space, new technology and new strategies for student learning and engagement.
Now, with all of the changes in place due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Eden Park’s new learning community is one of the district’s few facilities that can meet the demands of the standards deemed critical to mitigating the spread of disease. With larger classroom spaces, flexible classroom seating and new, efficient HVAC systems, the focus on such improvements in the five-year plan for Cranston’s construction projects could not have come at a better time.
Should Question 2 be approved, the rest of the Eden Park building stands ready to receive renovation and modernization matching the intermediate wing, with 21st-century features for teaching and learning, health and safety updates including modern bathrooms, and acoustical treatments and varied lighting in classrooms. Outdoor spaces will be updated to include secure outdoor learning and recess spaces, and the remaining exterior walls will be removed and replaced with a wall system that will meet or exceed Northeast Collaborative for High Performing Schools, or NE-CHPS, energy standards.
Additionally, the proposed plans for the school will be in line with the Rhode Island Department of Education’s school construction requirements, such as having a new, dedicated gymnasium, which will be available for community functions and play, and a new dedicated library space, which will be large enough to accommodate a full range of modern services. The windows in the rest of the building will be replaced to be secure and operable, letting in natural light – an overwhelming request from students during the design process.
Each individual classroom space in the new Eden Park learning community features walls, secure doors and secure, insulated windows, as well as a variety of seating options for the whole class, small groups and peer-to-peer collaboration. The walls and furniture often feature an ability to be written on with dry-erase markers and the technology installed throughout the building allows for interactive teaching and learning.
Additionally, the new learning community features other flexible spaces that allow for both small groups and combined larger groups to work together. There is also a dedicated presentation space in the learning community, which features a small stage, a presentation screen, and a green screen.
In addition to the five core construction projects proposed in the five-year plan for Eden Park, Cranston West, Park View, Gladstone and Garden City schools, the $147 million bond allocates funding for district-wide infrastructure improvements to the remaining schools as well. This includes HVAC improvements, electrical upgrades, new roofing and health and safety upgrades. Each of the projects is eligible for the state’s reimbursement.
Nearly 80 percent of Cranston voters approved the 2018 statewide bond question that allows for significant reimbursement from the state for these school construction projects.
These recent months of COVID-19 have shown just how dire the need is for improvements to school facilities in Cranston, and the school district has been among the first at the table in Rhode Island with a comprehensive plan that will capitalize on state reimbursement opportunities.
The city is eligible to receive between 54 and 74 percent in reimbursement from the state, money that would be given to other communities had Cranston not been ready with its plans from the get-go. The Cranston Public Schools five-year plan has not only been recognized by the state, but the first project, the Eden Park Pathfinder Project completed in 2019, has been recognized both nationally and internationally and has shown both the city and the state what the rest of the schools can and will look like as Cranston Public Schools begins to take the much-needed steps towards modernization and expansion.
Cranston Public Schools leadership was very thoughtful in planning out these five core projects, being certain to impact as many students in as many parts of the city and at as many educational levels as possible with the upgrades.
The proposed five-year plan will help ensure that the city of Cranston will continue to draw families to its neighborhoods because of its schools. The school construction bond on the general election ballot will impact the students of today and for generations to come. It will impact property values across the city and will help to get the local economy back on its feet post-COVID-19, as the projects will provide many job opportunities.