Input sought on school building plan

The Cranston Herald ·

Cranston’s school department, in its quest to eventually renovate or rebuild schools, which are in some cases almost 100 years old (Briggs Building), has hired an outside company, Fielding Nair International (FNI), to come up with a long-term plan to do so.
The process is currently in phase one, which will not exceed a cost of $337,000, school Chief Operating Officer Ray Votto said. This phase is focused on “discovery,” which includes community workshops, in-school evaluations, and input from teachers, students, and the public.
Superintendent Jeannine Nota said that all the schools buildings will be part of the community discussions and “everything is on the table.”
“The essential question will be, ‘can the building/facility/campus provide a 21st century education for our students?” Nota wrote in an email. “That will drive the analysis of everything else.”
She said that there are more than 25 buildings that the school department use and maintain and that they are spending millions of dollars to maintain them, but not improve them.
Phase one of this process will last until May or June, Votto said, at which point the School Committee will vote on a plan that Fielding Nair and the school department come up with in the next few months.
Votto said that they are doing this now because they want to be at the forefront of the issue of rebuilding schools so that once Governor Gina Raimondo’s bond money is potentially approved by the general assembly and it goes to voters, Cranston will have a plan in place for how they want to use that money.
The total amount of the bond from the Rhode Island Department of Education, for which the city gets 52 cents on the dollar, will be close to $60 million, he said. When a plan is in place, he added, the department would seek a city bond tentatively planned for the 2020 ballot.
To get a jumpstart on the process, the department is bringing in Fielding Nair now and doing community workshops, beginning with a March 5 meeting at 7:00 p.m. in Cranston High School East’s library.
“We’re trying to engage all of the constituents of a school department,” Votto said. “Students, parents, employees. This isn’t coming from the district, it’s coming from the community itself.”
During these community workshops, the floor will be open to anybody with input on what they’d like to see differently in schools, Votto said.
He said that the discussion will include potentially changing the structure of classrooms to make it more conducive for students, potentially changing the structure of the school buildings themselves, potentially changing how teachers interact with their students, and making the classrooms more conducive to “21st century learning.”
Votto said that the changes in how students are taught may include breaking the classrooms into sections where some students are working on projects in teams while others are getting a lecture from the teacher.
From Fielding Nair’s side, they won’t just be directing the community workshops and listening to input from Cranston residents as they come up with a plan for Cranston’s schools, but they’ll also be conducting in-classroom visits to aid them in this process.
Fielding Nair, Votto said, has done this same process in other schools around the country, internationally, and in Rhode Island with the Middletown School District.
Jay Litman, FNI’s Rhode Island Studio Director and point man on this project, said that all of America’s schools, not just Cranston’s, are in need of renovation.
“America is so far behind in design of educational facilities,” he said. “It’s not just bad windows or rickety roofs; they don’t meet 21st century standards in any way or form.”
Litman said that Cranston is the only district in Rhode Island to embark on this path so far. He said that in the next two weeks he will be visiting each Cranston school to identify the structural improvements they may need and to determine how to make them into “21st century” buildings.
There are 10 community workshops currently scheduled, from the first one at East on March 5 until a final one at Hope Highlands on May 22. The meeting schedule, and a link to register for a workshop, can be found on the Cranston School Department’s Facebook page.
“We hope to start honest discussions about what we have in our city, what we want for our children going forward in Cranston, and what we can accomplish together to provide excellent facilities for our students,” Superintendent Nota said.
(With reports from Pam Schiff)