City Council Cautious on New EPHS: Plan Vote on Thursday, April 5th.
Big Crowd Vows Thursday Return
The proposal to construct a new East Providence High School should clear a big hurdle at a scheduled Thursday, April 4, 2018 City Council meeting at 7:30 p.m. At that time the council will decide whether or not to allow the school department to take the final step forward to replace the 1952-built school on Pawtucket Avenue. Council approval of this phase is a requirement of the Rhode Island Department of Education. The school department is required to give an answer to the state by April 10, 2018.
Superintendent of Schools Kathryn Crowley and the school building committee chaired by Ward Three School Committeeman Nathan Cahoon, were expecting a vote at the April 3rd meeting. Crowley, Cahoon and a standing room crowd of parents, teachers and others, were disappointed that a council vote was put off until Thursday night (April 5th). Word had circulated before the meeting bagan that the council was not going to vote as expected. "They've (city council) already scheduled another meeting for Thursday night. There will be no vote tonight," a disappointed school committeewoman Jessica Beauchaine told parents waiting for the meeting to begin. "Residents came here tonight to listen and to speak. It was advertised this way," Beauchaine said.
During a break in the meeting, council members said that the Thursday, April 5th meeting was scheduled and they didn't intend to vote at the Tuesday meeting. "Are we going to be able to speak on this," a parent asked Mayor Briden. "I got a babysitter and took the night to be here to listen and speak," said the parent. "If the whole council agrees on Thursday then people can speak," answered Briden. "Okay, I'll wait," she added.
"Well, that's okay," said Nathan Cahoon. "The council has supported us along the way at each phase of our more than year-long planning process. We'll be here Thursday." Joining Cahoon and Beauchaine at the meeting were school committee members Charles Tsonos, Chairman, at-large member Joel Monteiro and Ward Two member Tony Ferreira. Monteiro and Ferreira addressed the council, both supporting the new high school project. "Similar size schools in the area were built for a lot more money than this proposal," Ferreira told the council. Joel Monteiro cautioned that denial of this project will cost East Providence High School its accreditation. "The mandatory repairs to this building will not be heavily reimbursable as a new school will be and the cost to repair will be higher than new construction. Not being dramatic, just stating facts," said Monteiro.
While most of the council members said that they thought a new high school was necessary, they weren't sure of the "numbers." "Can we afford the bonding," asked Mayor and council-at-large, Jim Briden. "Is there any way this cost can be scaled back," asked Briden of school officials. "No," was the answer. "This project has been vetted by a group of experts, the state department of education and we have kept everyone up to date on all our numbers. We know we are definitely getting almost 55% reimbursement and could very easily get 70.5% back," said Cahoon. "We won't know the amount until after the state-wide bond in November, 2018." "We could easily get a $189 million state of the art high school for $89 million. It is a wonderful opportunity which won't come our way very soon," said Superintendent Crowley.
The school department is mandated to submit council approval to the state by April 10, 2018. The school department is requesting to ask the public to vote on a bonding package which would "authorize the City of East Providence to finance the acquisition, construction, furnishing and equipping of a new high school, and all expenses, including but not limited to costs of design, demolition, athletic fields, landscaping, parking by the issuance of not more than $189,500,000 bonds, notes and/or other indebtedness, subject to approval of state housing aid at a reimbursement rate or state share ratio of not less than 50%..."
A problem facing city officials is that they will have to bond some money up front before they get reimbursed by the state bond. "We're guaranteed 50% and very likely could get 70.5% reimbursed," said Crowley and other school officials.
The large audience made up of primarily pro-new high school supporters became a bit impatient when the council signaled no urgency to vote on this last phase of required approvals. "Vote, vote," began a chant rippling through the crowd but Mayor Briden said no vote would be taken. "We need to take this in tonight, ask questions and we'll meet on just this on Thursday night," said Briden. "We need to make sure their aren't other things that need to be addressed as well. There me be other schools, other projects, we have road repairs," he added. "I acknowledge we need a new high school. We just have to make sure we can afford it in this form," said Briden.
"You have supported us right along and I thank this council," said Cahoon. In a quick retort about the council's concern on an increasing tax rate, however, Cahoon said "I can't think of anything more important to spend our money on." The audience stood and applauded loudly.