Aerial view of Rogers High School in 2016. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License

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With considerable concern about the state’s ability to fund hundreds of millions of dollars in school construction projects, the Rhode Island Department of Education’s Council on Elementary and Secondary Education today approved what it termed the “necessity” of Newport’s $106.3 million school construction proposal, along with several other projects..

The caveat is that before anything moves forward the City Council needs to request approval for a bond referendum from the General Assembly. If the Assembly gives the city approval to go ahead with a bond, the issue goes back to the council, which then must decide whether to go ahead and to set a date for the bond referendum.

The vote today came amid a number of concerns about the state’s financial position, particularly as a result of the coronavirus, along with concerns whether the Republican White House would hold up any federal funds to Rhode Island, by all measures a Democratic state.

It was also noted that because of the struggling economy, construction and borrowing costs may be at all-time lows.

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Besides Newport, the Council also considered proposals from Burrillville, $7.2 million; Cumberland, $79.1 million; Warwick, $56 million; and Cranston, $146.8 million. Voters in Cumberland, council members said, have already approved a local bond.

While there was also talk of possibly delaying a vote until fall that was quickly dismissed as councilors noted it could impact incentive money for which the communities could quality.

For Newport, the state’s base aid would be 35 percent, plus the likelihood of another 17.5 percent in a variety of incentives. 

A couple of years ago RIDE released the Jacobs report, an assessment of every school in the state, painting a dismal picture of the condition of schools from every corner of Rhode Island. It suggested it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars just to bring schools to a safe levels, and up to $3 billion for schools to achieve not only safety, but provide what is characterized as a “21st century learning environment.”

The Jacobs Report portrayed Newport’s Rogers High School as the high school in the worst condition of all high schools in the state.

At the outset of today’s meeting it was made clear that the council’s action was to “move along” project it felt had met RIDE’s criteria.

The state’s share would be paid over several years. It was also made clear that if local voters did not approve a local referendum, the vote today becomes “null and void.”

The proposal that RIDE approved today calls for construction of an approximately 166,000 square foot, 755 student school that consolidates the high school and Career Tech Center, part of a districtwide masterplan that also includes an eight-classroom 15,000 square foot addition to the Pell Elementary School.

During their regular council meeting on Wednesday evening, Newport City Council will hear a resolution that states “memorializing the General Assembly to Enact Legislation Authorizing the City of Newport to Issue not to exceed $106,500,000 General Obligation bonds, notes and other evidences of indebtedness to finance all costs relating to the construction, renovation, improvement, alteration, repair, landscaping, furnishing and equipping of: (I) an addition to the Claiborne Pell Elementary School, including but not limited to, classrooms and associated support space, site improvements, and parking and (II) a new school facility for the William S. Rogers High School, provided that the authorization shall be reduced by the amount of certain grants received from State bond proceeds, from the Rhode Island Department of Education or from the Rhode Island School Building Authority.”


What’s Up Newp will follow up with an update following City Council’s meeting.

After comment from several members of the community and City Council, Council voted during their council meeting 6-1 (Leonard nay) to moving the school bond forward as one bond item.

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