By EMMA BARTLETT
Despite construction costs being up 30 to 40 percent and materials being delayed, Cranston Public Schools’ building projects for the district’s five-year plan are …
Despite construction costs being up 30 to 40 percent and materials being delayed, Cranston Public Schools’ building projects for the district’s five-year plan are moving along according to Chief of Facilities Management and Capital Projects Ed Collins.
In the fall of 2020, Cranston voters approved a $147 million bond for Cranston Public Schools’ five year strategic plan to renovate and update the district’s aging schools by turning them into 21st century learning environments. Collins updated the School Committee of the ongoing construction during their Oct. 18 meeting.
The exterior colors of Garden City Elementary School are now visible and Collins said hopefully in another two or three weeks the building will be completely enclosed and workers can start on the inside finishes.
“We are well on our way to be prepared to open in 2023 for the summer,” said Collins.
Meanwhile, at Eden Park Elementary School, the gym walls are two-thirds of the way up and in the next several weeks beams will come in for the roof structure. Collins said hopefully the cafeteria and gym – or one or the other – can be turned back over to the school come January.
As for the high schools, the district is waiting on the windows for Cranston’s East roof which is estimated to come in mid-November and will complete the project. As for Cranston West’s fire alarm and front foyer upgrades, CPS is waiting on glass to come in as well as items for the fire alarm system which will be here after the first of the New Year.
Updates to Western Hills Middle School unit ventilators are also underway. Every unit has been valved off and the district is waiting for the delivery of the new unit ventilators.
The district is also focused on gearing up for work at Gladstone Elementary School. The district reconciled estimates from the district and contractors and are currently in a value engineering stage. Collins said if everything goes well, the building and demolition will start right after school lets out in June. Students from Gladstone will be transferred to Chester Barrows and Daniel Waterman while construction occurs.
With construction costs so high, Collins said the district has been creative in building quality schools.
“The last thing you want to do is put up a building that’s not even compliant and is not a quality building. You’re going to be revisiting this in another 20 years,” Collins told School Committee members last Tuesday.
The district budgeted a $147 million bond in 2018 and 2019 for its five-year plan, with CPS including a $14 million security blanket. The work must be completed by 2025. While Gladstone Elementary School originally cost $57 million, the 30 to 40 percent increase in construction costs has the building falling at $74 million.
According to Collins, the School Department is being credited 75 cents on the dollar from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) for Gladstone; the reimbursements for the other buildings are close to 69 cents on the dollar.
“The state gives us back almost $103 million,” said Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse.
The district has a draw schedule showing the exact number of funds needed to complete the building projects. At the moment, $50 million has been encumbered through bonding. Collins said the department’s last application with PayGo (Pay-As-You-Go program through RIDE) will be on its next invoice. After that, the city will need to start paying the full invoices.
“That’s when things are going to crank up and the $50 million is going to start depleting quickly,” said Collins.
Collins said PayGo is a reimbursement tool, though some people consider it a grant that is subtracted from the total $147 million. In his opinion, it is not a grant.
“With the bond money that was voted on the $147 million, if we were able to see all of that, we can get the projects done. If not, there are going to be some things that have to go,” Collins said.
This week, the district will meet with the city to update them on the district’s progress and review the financial schedule for the Gladstone project.
“We are excited that the city has committed to ensuring this project is moving along, despite the challenging economic times we are in. We as a community realize how important updated facilities are for our children and we are so grateful to the City of Cranston for especially realizing the importance of a new school on the eastern side of the city, which has some of the oldest schools in the state,” said Nota-Masse Friday. “Gladstone, built 70 years ago, is a school which houses some of our most needy students, and this new school is going to provide the equity, resources and support for our students and their families that is so desperately needed. We look forward to their continued support."
At last Tuesday’s meeting, Citywide School Committee member Michael Traficante recalled how in the past a school bond would be floated every two years to keep money flowing for infrastructure improvements. He added how a school bond has never failed in Cranston.
“The people of Cranston realize how important education is, how important the infrastructure relates to that education,” said Traficante.
Nota-Masse spoke about Massachusetts schools and how they’re incredible because they stick to a strict schedule for funding.
“When you look at Rhode Island buildings compared to Massachusetts buildings, there’s a reason why Massachusetts has better facilities and it’s because they’ve invested in infrastructure through a plan,” said Nota-Masse.
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