Those of us who’ve attended, visited or had children go through Cranston’s schools know well that our local public education system is one of the community’s greatest strengths and draws.
We also know, however, that the physical condition of many school buildings is dire.
These schools have served our community proudly for decades. Generations of students have walked their halls and learned vital lessons in their classrooms. Countless educators have worked tirelessly within their walls preparing young Cranstonians to become successful citizens.
But it has long been clear that buildings constructed during early or middle decades of the 20th century are too often ill equipped to meet the needs of the 21st century. That is the case on a number of fronts, from safety to instruction. The pandemic, and the need to address requirements related to social distancing and ventilation, has made these realities even more starkly evident.
Consider the basic statistics surrounding the age of the city’s schools. As Cranston Public Schools points out in its informational materials, the average age of the city’s school buildings is 65 years – nearly a decade older than the statewide average of 56. That puts the average construction date of our schools at 1955, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, the Soviet Union was at its height, and Alaska and Hawaii had yet to receive statehood.
The majority of the buildings, it should be noted, were erected between the 1920s and 1960s. The longest-standing of Cranston’s educational facilities – the Briggs building, home to the district’s administrative offices and some Cranston High School East classes – turned 100 years old in 2019.
Now, Cranston voters have an opportunity to make an essential investment toward the modernization of local school facilities.
Question 2 on the Nov. 3 general election ballot seeks authority to borrow $147 million for an ambitious five-year facilities improvement project. The question represents the culmination of years of work on the part of school leaders, educators, parents, students and many others.
In short, the plan seeks approximately $24.92 million to continue the modernization of Eden Park Elementary School; roughly $39.69 million to modernize and expand Garden City Elementary School; just more than $52 million for the replacement of Gladstone Elementary School; approximately $8.5 million for renovations at Park View Middle School; and just less than $8 million for renovations at Cranston High School West.
Additionally, the bond includes $14 million that would provide additional resources to address issues that arise at any other school buildings during the work on the five-year plan.
While the economic fallout of the pandemic has strained public coffers – and will continue to do so – the timing of this bond question makes its passage especially important.
Cranston will be in line for significant reimbursement from the state, as much as 74 cents on the dollar, thanks to a statewide school facilities bond approved in 2018. The city’s school district has been at the forefront of the statewide school building push and completed the Eden Park Pathfinder Project in 2019 to provide an initial glimpse of what is planned and possible.
For voters still leery of the price tag, we would note that the projects slated to be completed through the bond question will help the district escape what has been a “Band-Aid” approach to fixing issues at various school buildings. Newer facilities will help reduce significant, ongoing maintenance costs, which can only benefit taxpayers over the long run.
The need for this bond, of course, is about much more than saving dollars from year to year.
Quality schools are a core component of a thriving, successful community. They make a city or town an attractive place in which to reside and start a family. That, in turn, spurs economic growth and expands the community’s tax base.
Ultimately, this ecosystem – with smart and responsible management – fosters financial stability, safe and prosperous neighborhoods, and an expansion of opportunity and amenities across all segments of the community.
Cranston has a strong, wonderful public school system. Ensuring that continues to be the case in the years to come require will require a collective commitment from all Cranstonians.
Approving Question 2 on this year’s ballot is a crucial first step in affirming the value we all, together, place on education. We strongly urge voters to support the district’s bond question – and we hope to see additional investments in our school buildings in the years to come. Our future truly depends on it.