Tentative timeline revealed for new Johnston school projects

By RORY SCHULER
Posted 9/24/21

As the Johnston School District plans the biggest education facility overhaul in town history, voters will ultimately decide whether to pay for the $215 million project.

Last Wednesday, the …

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Tentative timeline revealed for new Johnston school projects

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As the Johnston School District plans the biggest education facility overhaul in town history, voters will ultimately decide whether to pay for the $215 million project.

Last Wednesday, the audience at a special School Committee meeting received a glimpse of the plans in store for the town’s schools: a new elementary school, a new early education center, and renovated middle and high schools.

Johnston Schools Superintendent Dr. Bernard DiLullo Jr. said the next step will be a Stage 2 submission of plans to the state Department of Education.

“The state will give us feedback,” DiLullo said. “The next step, once we get approval on Stage 2, we hire an architect.”

The SLAM Collaborative has handled preliminary plans for the ambitious set of school plans. However, it’s possible the district will hire another firm to finalize architectural plans.

“It may be SLAM; it may be someone else,” DiLullo said. “On Wednesday, we saw preliminary drawings and ideas. We will drill down on specific designs of the buildings.”

The next public update on the projects may come during next month’s Town Council meeting.

“Probably, at the next Town Council meeting, there will be a proposal or an agenda item to go out to bond to fund the project,” DiLullo said. “Then that gets approval from state legislature.”

A town wide vote would likely follow.

“Then it goes out to the voters of Johnston in a referendum,” DiLullo said.

Town and school officials will have to decide whether to hold a single all-encompassing bond issue referendum, or several separate votes on multiple bond issues.

“We’re undecided,” DiLullo said. “It could be a couple of them. It could be multiple bond issues, or could be one major one.”

With a Tax Stabilization Agreement now in place with Amazon, the town is expecting millions more in annual tax revenue over the next 20 years. School officials feel the time is right for a series of new school building projects. High state reimbursements for school building projects are also serving as a key motivator to strike while the iron’s hot. School officials hope the state may cover close to half of the anticipated $215 million price tag.

The district hopes to build a new Early Childhood Center, a new Elementary School for all students in grades 1-4, and make major renovations at the Nicholas A. Ferri Middle School and Johnston High School.

The new Johnston Early Childhood Center (ECC) may be built on the current site of the Sarah E. Barnes Elementary School, for approximately 359 pre-K through Kindergarten students.

The new ECC will cost an estimated $28,600,000, and is tentatively slated to open in the summer of 2024.

The school building proposal calls for closing, and then demolishing or selling the town’s current elementary schools.

If approved, the Barnes Elementary School will be demolished to build the new Early Childhood Center.

The Graniteville ECC Annex, Brown Avenue, Thornton and Winsor Hill elementary schools will all be vacated, and could eventually be sold by the town, or torn down.

The large consolidated, new elementary school will be built to educate 1,100 students in grades 1-4. The proposal calls for building the new Johnston Elementary School on town property just north of the Johnston High School.

The elementary school will cost an estimated $84,350,000, and is tentatively scheduled to open in late summer 2024.

The district will likely tackle the new ECC and elementary school first, and then move on to the high school renovation, and lastly, the middle school project, according to DiLullo.

SLAM has proposed more than $39 million in renovations to the Ferri Middle School and a $57 million facelift at the high school.

Planners hope to unveil the new middle school in late summer of 2025, and the modernized high school in late summer of 2024.

The middle school will be built to accommodate 1,066 students in grades 5-8. The high school will cover approximately 799 students in grades 9-12.

The plans call for new heating, air conditioning, ventilation, science labs and more at both schools.

DiLullo said the current early childhood center, attached to the middle school, will eventually become a fifth grade academy, for the district’s transitional-age students.

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