June 23, 2017

EPHS Rebuild or Repair: Mayor Jim Briden Statement.

Posted by bobrod72

One of the most studied buildings in East Providence is once again underneath a microscope as the current City Council and School Committee are looking into the condition of East Providence High School. When East Providence High School opened in 1952, it received national acclaim as a "showplace of the Northeast for High Schools." With its sprawling two-floor campus, gleaming terrazzo tiling, professional auditorium, large swimming pool with galley and comprehensive academic course offerings, EPHS was a jewel. It remained so for thousands of graduates.

According to many close to the development of the current problems with EPHS, many local politicians refused to support necessary capital improvements as budget items through the years. "Preventable maintenance remained a low priority for city school buildings."

The problems with the city's only high school have been well chronicled and in recent years the high school has received millions of dollars in school repairs and upgrades. One issue is although the schools massive boiler room has relatively new boilers, the problem remains that plumbing and electrical that feed the power plant are beyond repair. "It's like getting a new heart but still having totally clogged arteries everywhere."

An expanded library, new science lab, new floor tiles throughout the building, new lighting and several other improvements are not expected to be enough to avoid a recommendation that a brand new high school is needed in East Providence.

In a January 2016 city council - school committee meeting, Superintendent of Schools Kathryn Crowley said, "I've worked on and supervised major renovations on schools in four other districts." There are serious electrical and plumbing needs here. We do need a professional engineering study. We have one science lab, although a great one, for 1500 students. The plumbing system is all clogged, the underground cavern of the school is amazing. There will be abatement needed, we have duct tape on some window frames to stop drafty windows, we must do something quickly. We have great teachers, it's the plant that is lacking. In my experience we are talking millions of dollars here. All of the other schools I refer to were not as old as this high school," Crowley added.

Indeed the high school accreditation process had been hindered on the campus infrastructure. "Our academics were a strong point for us. It's the building that needs work," said Crowley. The school has since received its accreditation.

In March the School Department and City officials received and an independent summary and analysis on the condition and future of the 65 year old high school on Pawtucket avenue. The City Council had engaged the Slam Collaborative architectural firm along with Frank Locker Educational Planning. The discussion nows centers on whether the City should renovate or build a new high school. Many in the city want the building razed. One thought has a new school being built behind the current school, replacing all of the athletic fields. Presumably, once built, the old school would then be razed and fields could be relocated toward Pawtucket Avenue. A second proposal has a new school being built at the current site of the Pierce Field complex. It is unclear at this point if the football stadium and other ball fields would be able to relocate at the Pierce site.

"The purpose of this analysis is to assess the existing East Providence High School facility relative to its ability to support 21st century learning, how it compares with current Rhode Island Department of Education standards, and its current student enrollment capacity," stated an introduction from the report.

The analysis is based on four components: current educational practices, vision for future educational practices, facility enrollment capacity related to RIDE standard and overall facility size related to state standards. The report concludes that "the facility falls short on every measure."

The analysis concluded that the current facility impairs and restricts school operations and educational deliveries. "It will be a bigger impediment as the school aspires to deliver 21st century learning."

At-large councilman, Mayor James Briden seems to agree that preventative maintenance is a key to this issue and may indded have been a problem in the past. Briden released a statement this week which states: "The East Providence City Council and School Committee took a tour of the high school on March 28th. As we walked through the school the question that came to mind was whether elected officials, ten and twenty years from now, would also be observing an EP school that from hindsight required more capital investment and preventative maintenance over time.

True to the idea that those who do not learn from our history are doomed to repeat it, I believe that we need to now address the underlying systemic problem of not investing enough in our school buildings over the years in order to preserve what we have.

This is obviously wiser than not doing so and then being faced with the far more expensive alternative of constructing a new building.

So let's start by taking an inventory. This needs to include reviewing copies of all school improvement plans and expenditures from 2013 to the present.

In addition, we need to have a report on the condition of the other school buildings and to know what to expect over the next five and ten years.

No decisions have been made at this point on the high school.

Finally, our City's Planning Department needs to play a central role in guiding us through this process.

The time has come to implement a meaningful long term plan." - Mayor Jim Briden.

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