By JEN COWART Special to the Herald Editor's note: This is the first 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.
Special to the Herald
Editor’s note: This is the first 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 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.
The average age of schools in Cranston, at 65 years of age, is older than the state average of 56 years.
Each week, one specific project of the five slated for the first five-year plan will be spotlighted in the Cranston Herald. The leadership in Cranston 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. However, it is also important to note that the bond includes an additional $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.
This week’s spotlight school project is Garden City Elementary School.
Garden City School was built 67 years ago, in 1953, and like many of Cranston’s elementary schools, it has elements to it which are no longer approved in new school construction projects, such as a multipurpose room, more affectionately known as a “cafegymatorium” by many. It also has small, cramped classrooms that do not easily allow for 21st-century teaching and learning to take place, and the classrooms do not have windows which allow for natural light. The square footage of the classrooms is smaller than what is now allowable when constructing new elementary schools.
Garden City School will still be located in the same place, but will be completely renovated and modernized. The building capacity will increase from 309 students to 575. Renovations will include a state-of-the-art HVAC system that meets and exceeds COVID-19 standards; a warm, welcoming, entryway with modern security features; and windows that meet all codes for building and fire as well as the criteria set forth by the Northeast Collaborative for High Performing Schools (NE-CHPS). The windows are not only operable, but also allow natural light into the classrooms, deemed a “must-have” by the student focus groups organized prior to beginning the design process.
The classrooms will be designed to meet the needs of 21st-century learning requirements and updated features will include acoustical treatments, varied lighting, new furnishings and educational technology. There will be spaces for a wide range of learning scenarios and electrical systems that can support them. No longer will educators need to take their learning into the hallways for breakout and small group sessions, as the new building will feature small group rooms for both one-on-one and peer-to-peer collaboration opportunities as well as classrooms which are dedicated to whole-group instruction.
Although many may question whether or not the 1970s “open classroom” feature will be reintroduced, they need not worry, as each educator and their class will in fact have their own closed classroom space that features doors and windows. There will also be gathering spaces for larger groups of students for presentations or for opportunities to combine multiple classes together for events. Professional development supporting the educators at Garden City Elementary School has already begun, readying them to be able to interact successfully in the new teaching environment. The professional development will extend throughout the opening of the school, post-renovations.
The plans feature a new, dedicated gymnasium space that will be available for community functions and league play. A library/media center and a new dining and kitchen space are an integral part of the design plans as well. The expansion will also improve the use of the site for drop-off, parking and outdoor play, while preserving the new, dedicated playground space that was installed recently in memory of a Garden City alumnus. There will also be secure outdoor learning spaces.
The five-year plan ensures that the city of Cranston will continue to draw families to its neighborhoods because of the schools. The school construction bond on Nov. 3 will impact the students of today and for generations to come. It will impact the 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.