December 17, 2017

Mayor Briden on High School Plan

No decisions have been made yet - Mayor Briden

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Mayor & At-Large Councilman James Briden released a statement in which he is recommending options for a new city high school which will minimize up front taxpayer contributions. The city had been planning for a synchronizing of the city tax year which has been different than most others in Rhode Island. This change in fiscal year spending would involve a large up-front expenditure of tax money.

Briden is asking for continued dialogue with city and school officials on options for a new high school which may now include a "hybrid" type project. Such a project could include a combination of renovation and new construction.

The East Providence School District and City Council is looking at East Providence High School. The City Council has commissioned a study of the School. The School District commissioned an additional study. The State Department of Education, in its efforts to determine the status of all the State’s schools, also commissioned a study which included the High School.

According to a city building committee study, here are some determinations: "East Providence High School is old. It was built in 1952 and opened when Harry S. Truman was President. In the sixty five years since, much in the world has changed – education being no exception. With respect to education, the existing building is no longer able to support the technology and other developments in education which require far more flexibility than the building is capable of supporting. In terms of the building itself, as one consultant observed, it is running on a “wing and a prayer.” The heating and electrical systems are original to the building – sixty five years old. Parts are no longer available to make repairs."

The building committee making recommendations also stated that East Providence has an opportunity for reimbursement from the State for approximately 56% of the costs associated with building a new facility. "For anyone following the news on the state of Rhode Island’s school buildings, there is going to be a tremendous demand for new buildings and renovations over the next several years. We believe we have a much greater chance of seeing a reimbursement now because we have one of the first requests being submitted to the Department of Education. We are not sure East Providence will have as high a priority after other districts with equally dire needs begin to make requests," said a building committee statement.

"I attended the School Building Committee Meeting at EP High School on November 16th and the focus was on the construction of a new building for the high school. I then placed the topic of a School Bond and the need for a fiscal impact analysis on the City Council docket for discussion at our meeting on November 21st," said Briden.

School Committee member Nathan Cahoon, a leader in the school building committee effort addressed the City Council and public in general. "In short we've assembled a panel of experts in public education, municipal finance, procurement, architecture, capital improvements and school administration to help usher in the next great American high school. We've been meeting since March to complete the early stages of RIDE requirements, contract a professional Architectural/Engineering firm, and to develop a detailed schematic design and cost estimate to meet a February 1, 2018 deadline. Hundreds of volunteer hours have brought us to this point, and we want you to understand the process, and to get an early look into the future of East Providence," said Cahoon.

"My understanding is that the State reimbursement/payment may be as high as 55% and even higher for certain components of the project. There was also mention of the possibility that the City of East Providence might in the future be required to borrow or otherwise come up with only its share of approximately 45% up front. This is different than the current requirement that we borrow or otherwise front the cost of a project prior to then being reimbursed by the State.

So, for example, if a project were to cost no more than 100 million, then the threshold issue is whether the City could borrow or come up with only its percentage share of 45 million.

If this change does not occur, then we will need to consult with our fiscal advisors on whether there is an approach to borrowing that is affordable to our city.

The recently approved 5 year budget plan for East Providence includes a 2.3 million dollar annual contribution to the tax year synchronization fund. Our current balance in this account is a bit more than 13 million and so with a 2.3 million dollar contribution in the next 2018-2019 budget, we will have in excess of 15 million in this fund.

So if the high school project, for both exterior and interior, was to come in under 100 million and EP had to come up with its 45% share or 45 million, then we could consider a plan for the high school where we might decide to contribute 15 million from the synchronization fund and have a bond for 30 million.

We could then commit the 2.3 million dollar annual synchronization fund contribution to the yearly payment on the 30 million dollar school bond debt service. In fact, the 2.3 million should actually exceed the annual payment on the 30 million dollar bond.

The result is that we could make a very significant investment in our high school without triggering a tax increase above what is projected in our 5 year budget plan.

Whether we end up renovating, replacing or a combination of both, I believe that investing in our high school is now more important than synchronizing our tax year and should be a high priority for our city.

In sum, this is all very much a work in progress with no decisions having been made by the City Council. Nevertheless, whether we ultimately agree or not on a final plan for the high school, I believe that we need to maintain ongoing discussions between the City Council and the School Committee and evaluate affordable options within the parameters of our 5 year budget plan," said the lengthy Briden statement.

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