By JEN COWART Special to the Herald Editor's note: This is the third 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.
This week’s spotlight school project is Cranston High School West.
Cranston West was built in 1958, marking the first time that there were two high schools serving the city. Prior to the building of West, Cranston High School East was known as Cranston High School.
At that time of the second high school’s construction, Richard Nixon was vice president, “The Purple People Eater” was topping the music charts and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” was playing in theaters.
The building is now 62 years old, and the school population each year is approximately 1500 students. The Cranston Area Career and Technical Center – which is today one of the state’s premier career and technical education centers, bringing in students from across the state for its nationally recognized programs – was added to the campus in 1976.
The campus at Cranston West is large and includes five buildings, giving students an experience similar to that of a college campus.
During recent assessments by Jacobs Engineering in 2016 and by E.W. Burman in 2018, Cranston West was given a Facility Condition Index of 34.92 percent and rated “poor.” West has struggled with maintaining consistent heat throughout the buildings during the winter months as well as with failing exterior walls and windows that are inoperable. Recently, a section of the exterior of the main academic building was replaced as it had begun to collapse.
In the proposed renovation plan, a new air ventilation system would be installed. The system would meet and exceed the current Northeast Collaborative for High Performing Schools, or NE-CHPS, criteria and COVID-19 recommendations.
Additionally, new glazing and opaque exterior facades of the main academic building would replace the current failing glazing and opaque exterior facades. New, energy-efficient and modern exterior building cladding and insulation systems with high-performance, operable windows would be designed and installed.
Also in the district’s five-year plan, Cranston West is slated to receive a new, welcoming entry that would better utilize the large foyer area and reduce the distance between the front door and the main office where visitors check in. The renovated entry area would include 21st-century security features such as security at the main entry doors, a secure waiting area and a security vestibule. Guests would be able to check in immediately upon entering the building.
Because the current foyer area has typically been used as a gathering place for school events and an exhibition space and art gallery area – making it an important part of the fabric of the school community – a new student exhibition and lobby area would be created.
All of the bathrooms in the main academic building would be demolished and replaced with new modern bathrooms that are clean, healthy spaces. Also included are the gymnasium locker rooms, which are largely unusable in their current state.
Now that Cranston West has a multi-sport, multi-season field, there will be an increased need for modern, functioning locker rooms that can be used by visiting teams as well as the many Cranston West athletic teams who utilize those fields for athletics and community events.
This fall, Cranston voters will be asked to support a school construction bond that will allow the Cranston Public Schools to begin to renovate and update aging school facilities over a five-year period.
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 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.
It is also important to note that the bond includes $14 million allotted to address district-wide potential health and safety issues in any other school building that may occur during the five-year period. This will allow qualifying projects to also be reimbursable if they are included in the plan.
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 Nov. 3 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.
The investment in the Cranston Public Schools five-year plan is an investment for the entire community and for the future of the city of Cranston.