2017-11-16 / Front Page

Duva: Single school not viable option

Estimated $38M building wouldn’t be reimbursable
BY TIM RIEL

Not only would the cost to build a new school building be through the roof, taxpayers would have to foot the entire bill, the town councilors learned at their Nov. 6 meeting.

Ken Duva, superintendent of schools, presented a progress report on the district’s pending five-year capital plan. The proposal, which includes nearly $3 million in roof repairs at Lawn and Melrose schools, currently is being vetted by the state Department of Education. Only projects included on that application qualify for reimbursement. The request totals $8.5 million, although

Duva expects the final cost to be lower.

Following his presentation, Republican Councilman Blake Dickinson, a self-described fiscal conservative, asked if it were more sensible to build a brand-new facility as opposed to “putting lipstick on a pig.” According to report by Jacobs Engineering, a state-commissioned study that assessed every school in Rhode Island, it would cost $16 million to bring Lawn and Melrose schools to ideal conditions. Moreover, that estimate, which was released in September, doesn’t include the roofs.

“When I first saw that original number, my jaw hit the deck,” Dickinson said. “Can we get a new building for that?”

Dickinson suggested consolidating the nine grades under one roof. “Do it right and do it once,” he said.

Duva, however, said there are problems with that proposal. First, the price tag would be substantial. According to the Jacobs report, the replacement value is $38.1 million. Peter Anderson, the district’s maintenance director, corroborated that number. He said public schools typically cost $350 per square foot; the town currently operates two 50,000-square-foot buildings.

The second problem, Duva said, is the state probably would not reimburse the district for a new school.

“We’re not eligible,” he said. “They have not deemed either building in poor enough condition to close it down.”

Repairing the schools, however, is encouraged by the state. All projects approved in the $8.5 million application are eligible for reimbursement, which ranges from 35 percent to 80 percent. Because of the town’s firm financial footing, Duva expects the refund to be on the lower end of the spectrum.

The next step, Duva said, is working with the district’s engineering consultants to bring costs down to a “more palatable” estimate.

“It is time to invest in the schools,” he said. “We have a great educational program here. It’s a great value to the town. We need to invest in the buildings so we can continue providing high-quality education to our community.”

According to Town Administrator Andy Nota, the bond for the 1991 construction of Melrose School is scheduled to retire in 2021, which would allow the town to bond for school repairs without a massive impact on the tax rate.

“We would be able to just replace that debt service,” he said.

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