School outlines capital plan to council

The town council has given its preliminary support for the school district’s proposed five-year capital plan totaling $1.31 million.

The councilors unanimously approved the request Tuesday night at their meeting. The next step is for a letter of support to be drafted and sent to the Rhode Island Department of Education.

“We’re here because of the requirement, and because we wish to communicate our plan for the next five years for the improvement of our buildings,” said Kathy Sipala, interim superintendent of schools.

Architect Kyle Robinson, of Saccoccio & Associates, detailed the proposal. He said the work scheduled for the 2024-28 plan is much smaller than the 2019-23 plan, which was buoyed by $5.9 million in bonds. The new proposal will not require bonds. Sipala said. It will be entirely paid for by money put aside in the school department’s annual budget.

“After five big years where a lot of work was done, this five years is really about continuing that,” Robinson said. “There were a few things that got pushed off because of cost overruns … We’re not asking for bonds. This is all based on doing a piece of a project, getting the reimbursement, putting that back in and moving on.”

Projects approved by the state are eligible for a 35 percent reimbursement, Robinson said. The $1.31 million proposal ultimately would cost the district $854,100 after it is reimbursed nearly $460,000. Robinson does not anticipate any issues with this plan being approved at the state level.

“These are generally very small projects,” he said. “We’re not going for anything major at this time.”

According to Robinson’s presentation, the annual set aside for the capital plan will be $150,000 in ’24, $366,000 in ’25 and ’26, and $216,000 in ’27 and ’28. Every year has routine maintenance, including painting, interior refurbishing and exterior renovations, which is between $26,000 and $36,000. The first year also has $24,000 to update the card access systems at both schools and $100,000 in professional services for Saccoccio.

The big-ticket items begin in ’25 when $150,000 will be used to replace windows at Lawn. The $150,000 outlay for windows will again be earmarked in ’26. According to Robinson, 90 percent of the windows at Lawn were replaced from 2018-23 but “crazy construction” costs during the pandemic made them postpone replacements in the northwest wing.

“We want to go back and replace those windows to match the remainder of the school,” he said.

Annually from 2025-28, six classroom ventilator units will be replaced annually (at $30,000 each) at Melrose School, which is $180,000 per year for a total of $720,000.

While Councilman Erik Brine said he understood the importance of these projects, he asked about “more ambitious efforts to upgrade the school.” For example, the district’s infrastructure committee, he said, has discussed the Lawn gym, which “hasn’t been touched in almost 40 years.”

“Are we missing the opportunity when there are larger reimbursement rates than there traditionally have been?” he asked.

Robinson, however, said submitting this plan does not handcuff the district from submitting a second one.

“A green light on this doesn’t prevent you from issuing another one,” he said. “A lot of school districts have multiple five-year plans running on top of each other.”

According to Robinson’s presentation, the plan needs approval from the school committee before the application can be submitted to the state by the Sept. 15 deadline. The request is on the school board’s Sept. 7 agenda. The state will then consider a preliminary approval in October followed by full approval in December. If everything goes according to plan, a memorandum of agreement will be signed in 2024 and work can start “as early as the summer in 2024,” Robinson said.