The New EPHS is Here – The Next Generation of Townies
“This awesome news will now ensure that our community has a great physical and academic EPHS for the foreseeable future and beyond” - Nate Cahoon & Joel Monteiro -
When East Providence Senior 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, 1200 seat professional auditorium & orchestra pit, large swimming pool and galley and comprehensive academic course offerings, EPHS was a jewel. It remained so for thousands of graduates for many years. The school was a senior high school until East Providence joined the rest of the nation and moved to a middle school concept, adding grade 9 to the school. As a 10-12 configuration, the school grew to 2400 students in the seventies and double sessions began in 1973 ending in the mid 80’s. The student census stayed around 2000 until, like most cities, it dropped to under 1600 students. Smaller families and a population trend of people moving to South County and other suburbs became prevalent statewide.
In November of 2018, East Providence voters overwhelmingly approved construction of a $189.5 million state of the art high school. The new EPHS will replace the near 70-year-old building on Pawtucket Avenue. The current building, while deceiving in its decent outward appearance and inside renovations, had outlived its usefulness according to many with knowledge of the building infrastructure. Plumbing was inaccessible, adding technology would be cumbersome and expensive, the HVAC system was very inefficient, and classrooms were tired. While a case could be made by some that deferred maintenance through the years added to the school’s plight, that fact didn’t outweigh the general obsolescence of the campus. City voters and most officials agreed it was time for a new EPHS. It is currently the only new high school construction in Rhode Island.
The old high school had only one science lab (the new school has eleven) and faculty planning areas were scarce and small. Bathrooms were not numerous and access to the school with over 27 exterior doors did not meet today’s security standards. Visitors could come and go without much supervision, if any. The school maintained academic credibility but was facing certification problems due to facility issues. The Rhode Island Department of Education along with the independent Slam Collaborative Architectural Firm and Frank Locker Educational Planners, concluded that “… 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.” Estimates topped 100 million dollars to bring the school up to acceptable codes. That renovation estimate did not include investments in the Career and Technical Center building, improvements to athletic fields, or changes to the layout of the building to meet today’s educational standards. The analysis concluded, among other things, 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.” The report further stated that "the facility falls short on every measure." City officials contrasted renovation requests costing $100M with a bond issue which gave the community a $189M campus at a local cost of $89M.
In addition to general obsolescence, the 240,000 square foot building which opened in 1952 had been neglected for several years according to many sources with direct knowledge of City business. Recommendations to spend money and time on school infrastructure needs were generally tough to appropriate under certain former City Councils and School Committees.
In 2013 the beloved high school swimming pool was closed after receiving preliminary architectural estimates that it could take between $3.7 and $4 million to repair the pool. "What more do our students have to endure with this latest news about the high school," said one high school staff member at that time. In addition to physical education classes and interscholastic league athletics, the pool was used by several community groups throughout the year. "We were told that the pool is not compliant now with Americans with Disabilities Act standards. We also received a pretty damaging report on the pool's grim list of problems," said then school committee chairman Joel Monteiro in 2014. "A lot of stuff was evidently swept under the rug for years," he said.
In a January 2016 joint 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 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. The building has original HVAC and electrical components, for which spare parts are no longer available. There will be asbestos abatement needed, we have duct tape on some window frames to stop drafts, we must do something quickly. “Our academics are a strong point for us. It's the building that needs work. We have great teachers & staff, it's the plant that is lacking. All the other schools I refer to were not as old as this high school," Crowley added.
Voters overwhelmingly approved a bond issue for a new high school in that November 2018 vote. 12,373 voters or 78% of those voting approved a new school. City Councilman and former School Committee member Nathan Cahoon co-chaired the building committee with School Committee Chair Joel Monteiro. A building committee comprised of construction officials and residents was assembled. “The fact that East Providence has a cross-section committee overseeing the project and meeting just about weekly, was a key factor in getting this campus done on time and under budget,” a Gilbane financial manager told The Reporter.
“This is great, great news for the City of East Providence,” said Nate Cahoon. “East Providence has built a brand-new high school that is state of the art. It is safe. It is secure, modern, flexible, sustainable, and efficient. It is as remarkable in appearance as it is in function. It will be the centerpiece of our city’s renaissance for the next several generations,” Cahoon added.
Stressing the project’s collaborative community effort, Monteiro said that “there is a group of women and men on our building committee who have volunteered their time, lent their tremendous expertise and worked tirelessly to bring this building to life.” The project is designed by Ai3 Architects. Gilbane Building Company is the Construction Manager at Risk, and Peregrine Group, in partnership with CGA Project Management, is serving as the Owner’s Project Manager. Building committee members listed in alphabetical order are: Steve Amoroso, Kathy Crowley, Craig Enos, Anthony Feola, Sandy Forand, John McNamee, Gene Oakland, Benjamin Russell, Nick Shattuck, Manny Vinhateiro, Shani Wallace, and Bob Weygand, Nathan Cahoon and Joel Monteiro.
Things moved fast. In June of 2019, Governor Gina M. Raimondo and other state and local officials joined students, parents, educators, and community members in a groundbreaking ceremony for the new High School. The ceremony marked the start of construction on the 304,000-square-foot, four-story facility, with capacity for 1,600 students in grades 9-12. Officials hailed it as a modern comprehensive high school that will serve as an example for school districts throughout New England.
“This ceremony marks a critical milestone in our journey to transform this historic high school and build a bright future for this community,” said Superintendent Kathryn M. Crowley. “The new East Providence High School will provide our students and staff academic, athletic, and enrichment spaces in which to innovate, experiment, and thrive,” said Crowley at the groundbreaking.
“The groundbreaking is a sign of progress not just for East Providence, but for all of Rhode Island,” said then Governor Gina Raimondo. “This exciting investment in state-of-the-art facilities and hands-on learning experiences will help prepare East Providence students for jobs of the future."
Sixth grade students from Riverside and Martin middle schools in East Providence attended the ceremony, representing the Class of 2025, the first group of students who will spend all four years of high school in the new building.
THE NEW SCHOOL
From the 2018 Vote to September 2021, this massive project stayed on time and under budget. While many state and national building projects were delayed or halted due to pandemic-related issues, the new EPHS construction moved ahead with very few hickups. The new campus will feature 45 core academic classrooms, 11 science labs, two greenhouses, a Library Media Resource Center, and performing arts and music spaces, including a 900-seat auditorium. Academic spaces are designed to align instruction in core subject areas with Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs – including Culinary Arts, Allied Health, Graphic Arts, Construction Technology, Forensic Science, Radio and Television Broadcasting, and others which will be expanded and enhanced in the new facility.
The campus also will feature new fitness and athletic facilities, including a gymnasium with basketball courts and a walking track, which will be available to the community. Sports facilities will include a new synthetic turf football stadium and regulation track, halftime facility, tennis courts, and new lighted fields for softball, baseball, and lacrosse.
The new school will have all the latest security and health and safety measures available. “People will no longer be able to enter the building unnoticed,” said facilities and security manager Anthony Feola. “The new school is designed to meet Northeast Collaborative for High Performance Schools (NE- CHPS) design guidelines. The sustainable design both optimizes energy usage and improves energy efficiency,” added Feola.
A separate statewide bond issue was also approved by 77% of voters in November of 2018, which promised close to 74% school reimbursement to East Providence taxpayers. “It’s important for the community to know that the any state budget uncertainty will have no impact on the state's incentive program and general obligation construction bond,” said State Representative Gregg Amore at that time. “That program is embedded in statute and is not associated with the projected general revenue shortfall. The school has met all additional standards and guidelines and the state is obligated to pay their share of the bond as previously structured,” added Amore.
BACK TO THE FUTURE?
Ironically, the new Townie campus mirrors, in some ways, the construction of the 1952 school. Both 1952 and 2021 were hailed as “State of the Art” high schools. Both were and are the envy of many other communities. Both combined career-based or vocational classes with traditional college preparatory courses within the same building. The 1952 school included automotive, carpentry, metals, home economics and other career-based courses. The 1952 school had two full working greenhouses. All of these and more were in the original 1952 building until a separate Career Center was constructed in 1970.
Some courses have been modified to reflect current career needs, but the new school basically has these vocational courses within the same building. The current 1970 career center is staying and will now house the school administration and other district needs. This will vacate all school administrative offices from City Hall in a much-welcomed move. “There was never enough room for all school and City administrative departments, at City Hall for the state’s 6th largest community,” was the prevailing sentiment from those inside City Hall.
SAYING GOODBYE IS HARD. A TOWNIE WALKABOUT!
On May 29, 2021, school officials invited Townie graduates and others to take one last nostalgic walk through a beloved alma mater. Not knowing what to expect, officials were a bit overwhelmed when about 4,000 people showed up to say goodbye and grab a photo or two. They lined up at 8:30 for an advertised walk through of 9am to 2:30pm. The crowd never let up as it remained steady throughout. Officials estimate that Townies from 1950 through 2021 came. They signed their names and classes on papers to be included in a time capsule for the new school. They came from near and far, driving in from New Hampshire, Connecticut and other states. Mostly they came from all over Rhode Island and of course, East Providence. A steady rain and cold weather couldn’t dampen or deter these former and current Townies from saying goodbye to a friend.
“We read about a walk through and thought we would take a ride up,” said Dan Brochu, Class of 1988 and now living in Stonington, Connecticut. “Since graduating I have probably been here only a couple of times. “I met many good friends and teachers over in the vocational school when I was here. Many of us still stay in touch. I’ve seen drone videos and pictures of the new school and I am absolutely impressed and amazed,” said Brochu who brought his family to visit. “Today I work with nuclear power. I had to come visit and say goodbye.”
Joe Medeiros, Class of 1975, also came by. A frequent visitor to the high school since graduation he was still moved to stop by and walk down memory lane once more. “There are so many memories I have, it’s hard to single out one. My era here was of double sessions and memories of just a busy, busy time. It was a different time to go to school than today. The new school seems to be incredible. The kids today deserve it,” added Medeiros.
As waves of Townies and their families walked throughout the building many were greeted by former classmates and friends they hadn’t seen in a long time. Almost everyone had a camera and selfie and group pictures were the order of the day. One of the most popular photo backgrounds was “room 119” which, at one point, was the Attendance Office where tardy students had to check in every morning. At times it was a discipline office too. “I spent many a day in this room,” said Sandy Williams from the Class of 1991. “Not me,” said a friend with a chuckle. All day the room 119 doorway was busy with photo shoots.
Superintendent Kathryn Crowley, school finance director Craig Enos and district Facilities Director Tony Feola, greeted graduates and garnered signatures for the time capsule. At another table the Friends of Townie Athletics Organization was selling memorial bricks to be placed in front of the new school. At yet another table the Rumford Lions were offering their popular Christmas ornaments featuring the iconic Townie clock tower or Crescent Park items.
A popular gym teacher from the 60’s and early 70’s and later Assistant Superintendent Dr. Izzy Ramos, was met warmly by dozens of former students. Ramos was also a class member of the first class (1956) to graduate after three full years in the new school. Many other retired EPHS teachers were present and waxed nostalgic as they walked the corridors. The overall mood was festive, lighthearted and somewhat melancholy, although just about everyone spoke positively about the new EPHS campus. As people walked through the building, they remarked how “tired and obsolete the place looked, especially the classrooms.” Many were excited in anticipation of an open house for the new EPHS campus. “Give us some time, said a busy Superintendent Crowley. Let’s finish this year, clear out the old and set up the new school. You’re going to love it!” smiled Crowley.
A NEW ERA BEGINS
As high school students return to school this September 2021, they will be remembered someday as the first to attend the new East Providence High School. A tradition which began in 1884 when the then “Town” opened its first high school on Grove Avenue. A gala centennial celebration, organized by the late former Superintendent of Schools Myron J. Francis, was held in 1984. A weekend of concerts and activities were held at the (1952) building and featured the first-ever Townie Pride Parade,” which continues to this day. That citywide parade through the streets of East Providence is now condensed to a “Parade of Schools” at Pierce Stadium before a Townie Football game. Hopefully the tradition will continue either at Pierce Stadium or maybe at the new EPHS Football Stadium on the campus of the new school.
Tradition means a lot to Townies and while some may lament the loss of the “old” school and its memories, most are looking eagerly ahead to the onset of making memories for a brand-new generation of students, faculty, staff and community in a beautiful new campus. Yes, old timers will miss the great pool where so many learned to swim, the original clock tower is gone as it crumpled down in 1998 and numerous other “old school memories.” The 1998 replacement tower is being rebuilt and relocated to the front of the new building. Life moves on, history is forever and as the Townie football fight song says, On East Providence. It’s all good.
(Various photos from Paul Tumidajski, Mike Collington & Bob Rodericks)