Last Wednesday evening, Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse presented both the Cranston School Committee and the Cranston City Council with the proposed bond option for the first five years of the school departments master plan. The joint presentation was a public presentation held in the Cranston High School West Media Center. Also present were representatives from Fielding Nair International, an international educational architect firm based out of Rhode Island.
Nota-Masse thanked those present for coming out in the frigid weather and noted that the two committees had each received copies of the five-year plan as well as an overview of the condition of all facilities in the district. Those two items are currently for public view on the CPS website (cpsed.net). Additionally, five volumes of information produced by FNI were on hand for anyone to view. She reminded the audience that this was strictly a proposal and not set in stone and that it would be up to the school committee and city council to vote to approve the plan and up to the voters in 2020 as well. Nota-Masse emphasized that a great deal of thought and work went into creating the master plan and that it was not just a random selection of recommendations, but rather a long, arduous process which took place over a period of months, including district-wide tours, meetings, workshops and involved input from students, staff, administration and the community as a whole.
“We wanted the community to really understand why we are making the recommendations we are making,” she said. She noted that the process included community members, business owners, non-profit organizations, former city planners, attorneys, as well as current and past families from the community. “It was a very thoughtful, inclusive process,” she said.
One of the most exciting recommendations for the district that comes out of the five-year plan is to build a new school where the current Gladstone Street School now stands. Additionally, work is recommended on the following buildings: Eden Park Elementary School, Garden City Elementary School, Park View Middle School, and Cranston High School West. The total cost of the recommended work, including the new school as well as renovating and modernizing the above-listed schools, is $116,782,345. The proposal includes the closing and re-purposing of both Chester Barrows Elementary School and Daniel D. Waterman Elementary School, although specific plans for how they would be re-purposed are not yet known. The cost to repair the elementary schools as-is, (Eden Park, Garden City, Gladstone, Waterman, and Barrows) is $69,488,323.
The plan aims to impact as many students as possible and maximizes usable space in current buildings as well as usable land in and around the facilities themselves, and relies on the state reimbursement rate for the project as being up to as much as 70 percent when the projects meet specific requirements set forth by the RI Department of Education as incentives. Those requirements are that the projects must include any of the following: early childhood education programs, career and technical centers, innovative education, the improvement of school utilization rates, school consolidation, and safety and security. Without meeting those incentive requirements, the reimbursement rate is 52 percent.
Nota-Masse explained that statewide, the average age of the Cranston Public School buildings is older than the average age of school buildings statewide which is 56 years old, coming in at an average of 63 years old, and some buildings approaching 100 years old. Even the newest building, Orchard Farms, is 20 years old. She explained that the ages and deteriorating conditions of the buildings combined with the varied shapes and sizes make it very costly for them to be repaired and that the repairs do not impact student education or learning in any way. A great deal of the master plan includes updating school buildings for a 21st century education for Cranston students.
At Gladstone Elementary School, the proposal is to remove the current school building, where approximately 520 students are educated each day and replace it with a modern building to house up to 700 students. The project would include the new building, new play area, new road, new parking, and new field, and would be able to support a 21st-century education for the students, including but not limited to ample electrical plugs for technology, space for a variety of educational settings such as large group, small group, and individual work and windows to allow natural light into the classrooms. The cost to repair Gladstone Street School as-is was estimated by FNI to be $26,564,205, while the cost to remove the old building and replace it with a new, modern one was estimated at $44,329,311. The school received a Facility Condition Index (FCI) of 77 percent and was rated as a replacement candidate.
Throughout her presentation, Nota-Masse reminded that it is oftentimes more expensive to do less, and Gladstone School was just one of many examples in Cranston where that rang true.
The proposed master plan for the first five years not only included the closure of two schools and the replacement of one school but also selected renovations and modernizations of four others including two elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. The third Cranston High School, the New England Laborers, Cranston Public Schools Construction Career Academy Charter School (NEL/CPS) is housed in a building not owned by the city.
At Eden Park Elementary School, a pilot project is set to begin as early as this summer, with one wing of the school getting updates and modernization. The new space will not only be an educational learning center for students but will also serve as a space for professional development for teachers as well, providing training in how to best utilize such updated educational settings. It will also give the community a glimpse into the vision for the city's schools.
Cost of upgrades compared to going new
The total repair cost for Eden Park School as-is was listed at $11,356,994 and the replacement cost would be $21,573,000. The school was ranked on the Facility Condition Index as very poor and received a rating of 53 percent. The proposed facility additions and site improvements aim to modernize the school and include a new secure entry, a new addition, a new dedicated gym, a new library, a new service area, a new playground, a new recess area, and a new green space. The school, like many elementary schools in Cranston, combines the cafeteria, gym, and auditorium all as one (nicknamed the cafe-gym-atorium), which is no longer an approved practice. The total estimated cost for the modernization project is $25,598,000.
At Garden City Elementary School the FCI rating was listed at 40 percent, a rating of poor and to repair the school as-is would cost $9,458,128 and the replacement cost was estimated to be $23,638,500. To modernize and expand the facility would cost an estimated $36,367,000 and would include a new secure entry, new addition, new playground, new dedicated gym, new parking, and an extended cafe.
Park View Middle Schools FCI rating was 37 percent, and received a ranking of poor. The school building recently received new windows and a new science lab, thanks to middle school bond money originally slated to upgrade all three middle schools at the time (Hugh B. Bain, Western Hills and Park View) but was held when the economic downturn made it fiscally irresponsible to do the work at the time. When the bond money was later accessed, the cost to the planned improvements, combined with the increase in the costs of labor and supplies allowed just one school to be updated instead of three. The proposed renovations and modernizations in the master plan now include a secure and welcoming entry, an elevator which allows the school to meet ADA requirements, sprinklers, a Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM) Center, a roof, improvements to the plumbing as well as to the locker rooms, pool and auditorium as well as an outdoor classroom. The total costs to repair Park View Middle School would cost $25,119,941. To do the selected renovations and modernizations would cost $7,608,000 and replacement costs would cost $68,040,000.
Cranston High School West received an FCI rating of 35 percent, ranking it as poor (versus a higher rating at Cranston High School East of 25 percent, and a ranking of below average) and therefore was recommended in the proposal as the first of the two high schools to receive selected renovations and modernizations. The school has five buildings on its campus and the total repair cost would have been $43,390,585 and to replace it would have been $124,255,250. The proposed selected renovations and modernizations will instead cost $7,979,412 and include a secure, welcoming entry, exterior cladding and repair, exterior windows, locker room upgrades, bathroom upgrades and fire protection (gym). According to Nota-Masse the school does not have insulation (hence the updates to the cladding), and therefore the cold and wind come in while the heat goes out, making it very inefficient.
“Up to this point we have just done the minimum repairs and updates, trying to make sure that our students are warm, safe and dry,” she said. “Is that good enough for our students? We can’t keep this up, and we need to start somewhere.”
5-year plan a starting point
She also emphasized that just as it took many years for the school district’s facilities to get to the condition that they’re currently at, it will take many years to address the issues they face. The proposed five-year plan is a starting point to a much larger vision for the district. She credited Ed Collins, in charge of plant operations for CPS as being an invaluable part of the process
Nota-Masse noted that this proposal is just the first five-year plan of the districts master plan. The proposal must be approved by both entities present that evening and if so will be placed on the ballot for voting in November 2020. If the vote passes, the five-year plan would begin to be implemented from that point forward.