The Warwick Planning Department has issued a glowing recommendation to approve the lone bid from the International Charter School, who wishes to purchase and renovate the former Aldrich Junior High School building into what they aspire to expand into K-8 state charter school.
The Pawtucket-based charter school found Aldrich to be a “perfect match” in their search to expand their mission “to integrate the diverse languages and cultures of the communities it serves by teaching all students in two languages – in Spanish and English or in Portuguese and English – and helping children develop an appreciation of other cultures.”
The planning department reported that, considering their desires to keep the architectural integrity of the Aldrich building, the fact that residential neighborhoods surround the property on three sides and how the Aldrich building had been used as a school throughout its entire lifespan, the bid from the International Charter School is a great choice, in addition to the only real choice available for the building.
“From a land use perspective, the Planning Department could not be more supportive of continuing the legacy of an educational use that has taken place on this property since Nelson Aldrich High School was constructed in 1935,” the report reads.
The International Charter School has expressed their desire to purchase the property for $1.9 million and put around $6.9 million-worth of renovations into it, which would include new windows, ceilings, flooring, paintings, locker rooms, bathrooms, kitchen equipment as well as mechanical, electrical and plumbing upgrades. The school plans to occupy the building by the summer of 2019.
In addition to the purchase price, the school has expressed a willingness to pay an annual payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) of $70,000 per year. The planning department calculated that the assessed value generated from this PILOT is worth the same as taxes collected by a commercial property assessed at $2,305,665.
The Aldrich property was assessed by Peter M. Scotti & Associates and reported on Sept. 25 to be worth an assessment of approximately $2,535,000. They also concluded that, “based on the current zoning, in our opinion as improved the property’s highest and best use would be continued as a schools use.”
The Planning Department concluded that, considering the purchase price and the PILOT, the school would meet that appraisal figure in nine years from the time of purchase, and would exceed the appraisal figure over time due to a 1.5 percent escalation in the PILOT set to be paid in five-year installments over 20 years. Afterwards, a 1 percent escalation rate would go into effect.
The Planning Department also recommended a provision be included in the purchase agreement, which would transfer the terms of this PILOT agreement to whatever new owner or tenant inherited the property.
Julie Nora, director of the International Charter School, made it clear that this provision would be purely protective however, as the school plans to stay in Warwick for the foreseeable future.
“This would be our new home,” she said on Tuesday.
Nora said that the neighborhood reaction she got from a community meeting held in September was mostly positive, as many were more concerned about the Aldrich building remaining vacant. Nora further said that she hopes the school can open up its recreational facilities – which are planned to include a basketball court, a baseball diamond and soccer fields – to the general public.
“I truly think it's a win, win. I think we are helping Warwick accomplish its comprehensive plan,” she said.
Addressing concerns that a charter school in Warwick would potentially draw students away from the public schools and harm the district, the Planning Board proposed a capped limit on the number of students from Warwick that could apply to the school to five students per year, and would also seek to establish a weighted lottery to give these five students from Warwick students priority during enrollment.
Nora said that the International Charter School, which seeks to grow from 425 students in Warwick initially to 800 students within eight years, has only received 20 total applications from parents of Warwick students in its 17 years of enrollment – out of more than 6,500 total applications in that time frame.
“We imagine being located [in Warwick] will increase awareness and we're aware of that,” Nora said, saying she was in support of the proposed cap to ensure the school doesn’t cause harm the district.
Mayor Scott Avedisian said he supports the bid because the school had done their homework, talked with neighbors and planned on initiating a new entrance and egress plan, as well as a bus pickoff and drop-off zone, which wouldn’t impact surrounding traffic patterns, according to the Planning Department report.
“The PILOT payment is also a good show of faith that they want to do the right thing and be a part of the community, which I think is wonderful,” he added.
The bid will now go before the Warwick City Council.