Despite progress, School Building Task Force’s work far from over, RI treasurer says

Northwest

SMITHFIELD, R.I. (WPRI) — State and local leaders toured a Smithfield elementary school utilizing funds from the state’s School Construction Task Force on Wednesday.

General Treasurer and School Building Task Force Co-Chair Seth Magaziner, who released the Progress Report on Rhode Island School Construction last month, stopped by Anna McCabe Elementary School to see construction progress Tuesday.

Anna McCabe Elementary School is being expanded to accommodate students from William Winsor Elementary School that’s closing at the end of the 2020-2021 school year. The $85 million expansion project at McCabe Elementary broke ground last spring.

Related: RI has invested $1.3B so far to repair, replace 163 school buildings

According to the new progress report, McCabe is one of 163 school buildings across the state utilizing funds from the so far $1.3 billion allocated to modernizing Rhode Island schools.

“They are one of the first out of the gate modernizing and consolidating their elementary schools. It’s just incredible,” Magaziner told 12 News Wednesday.

“They have maker spaces, a 21st century library that they’re building, the energy efficiency, the natural light. It’s going to be terrific for students, it’s going to be terrific for outcomes, and that’s ultimately what this is all about,” he added.

Magaziner, who started his career as a public school teacher, said from his teaching experience, he learned the quality of a school building directly impacts the ability of teachers to teach and students to learn.

“Every student deserves to go to a school that’s warm and safe, and dry and equipped for 21st century learning. And the progress that we see statewide from the state’s school construction program is just incredible,” he said.

In 2018, the average age of an elementary school building in Smithfield was 61 years old and the buildings were in poor condition, according to Magaziner’s April progress report.

The progress report said the most significant shortfalls were at Winsor Elementary School, built in 1967. The school has been cited repeatedly by safety officials for its lack of a fire sprinkler system.

Additionally, the report notes Winsor’s electrical system was outdated, plumbing fixtures needed to be replaced, and “painted walls were chipping or worn in many places, exposing students to the lead-based paint which was used prior to 1978.” The two-story school also lacks an elevator, which the report says made it “difficult, if not impossible,” for anyone with “significant mobility impairments” to access the second floor.

The closure of Winsor has been in the works for a decade, according to the progress report, and after input in several town council and school committee meetings, they found a solution for the elementary school.

A $45 million dollar plan adopted by the school committee included Winsor’s closure, expanding McCabe, renovating and expanding LaPerche Elementary, adding classrooms for pre-kindergarten, moving existing pre-kindergarten programs at McCabe to LaPerche, and renovating Old County Road School, adding an elevator for handicap accessibility to the second floor.

When complete, the progress report notes McCabe Elementary will not only be able to accommodate additional students, but also have an updated cafeteria, plus a new music room, media center and gym.

Smithfield’s minimum state reimbursement for school construction costs is 35%, but with the town’s goals to consolidate schools and increase energy efficiency, Smithfield was eligible for an additional 15% in bonuses, according to Magaziner’s report. This brought total reimbursement to 50%, with the town receiving an additional $16.7 million in funding.

Magaziner said he’s happy with the progress with school construction so far, but his work with the task force is far from over.

“We are still taking applications from school districts who want to do projects. The enhanced funding that we made available is still available for another two years,” Magaziner said. “So, we encourage all communities to continue doing the work to put new proposals together, so that we can fix more schools all across the state.”

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