CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (WPRI) — As if they were wrinkles, the cracks and signs of wear on the outside of Central Falls High School reveal every age of its 100 years on Summer Street.
Inside, you’ll find a recent rainstorm further progressed its age, with parts of the ceiling and walls crumbling down in the auditorium.
R.I. Department of Education Chief Operating Officer Mario Carreño and other officials guided 12 News to a classroom, where in the age of whiteboards and new technology, it instead shows a long-used blackboard. Tables instead of desks fill the hot room.
“It’s not necessarily accessible. There’s no ramp. It would be challenging. You have classrooms that are really undersized. You have desks that are meant for a way of teaching that was done a hundred years ago,” he explained.
Down I-95, a brand new East Providence High School is opening its doors for a second year with shiny new hallways, state-of-the-art technology, and modern heating and cooling systems.
How does Central Falls get the same? Money, of course, and Carreño says it is available. In fact, it’s available for cities and towns across the state who want to utilize it.
Crumbling school buildings have been a reality for many districts, not just Central Falls. Carreño says it got to this point because, for years, there was a moratorium on any new school construction projects.
“I think one of the big paradigm changes was in 2017 when we released the statewide assessment which actually documented the needs of every school in our state,” Carreño said. “It became very clear what our need was, especially in Rhode Island which documented over $3.3 billion in need, so tons of need that had been built up over an unprecedented period of time.”
After the statewide assessment, voters in 2018 approved a $250 million bond to invest in schools. Carreño said the state incentivizes projects by paying a portion of the cost to alleviate the community’s tax burden.
The less affluent the community, the bigger the state will pay for it.
Since then, Carreño estimates that Rhode Island ranks among the top states in the country for investing in new school construction projects.
Voters statewide will find a similar $250 million bond question on their ballots in November. Approving that money, Carreño says, helps the local economy in many ways.
“From a public resource perspective, there’s no better investment than school construction because you improve both educational outcomes and economic outcomes, so over this period of time, we’re creating the equivalent of 30,000 jobs,” Carreño said, especially with minority-owned local companies.
In addition to the voter-approved money, the state is already investing $50 million extra which was a surplus in last year’s budget. That money will help give communities the incentive to start school projects, too.
Some communities will also see a separate question, asking voters if they approve another channel of tax money to pay for school projects specific to their city or town.
The state also has another revenue stream that’s helping the five most struggling communities, including Central Falls. The money is through the “facility equity initiative,” which was used in Central Falls to pay for all new furniture for Calcutt Middle School.
The tables and chairs include “funky” shaped chairs and rocking chairs, all approved and tested out by students and faculty. The district is also using the money to fully renovate science labs and classrooms in the building.
Other communities, like Pawtucket, are using the “facility equity initiative” money differently.
Further down Summer Street will be the home of the new Central Falls High School. Plans have already begun for designing the school, and once approved, it will then take a year or two for the new school to be built.