PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The former St. Joseph’s Hospital building will be donated to the city of Providence, with plans to eventually turn it into a new pre-kindergarten through 8th grade school as part of a wider plan to reconstruct the city’s aging school buildings.
The owner of the hospital, real estate developer and former Providence Mayor Joe Paolino, is planning to donate the East Building, the chapel and a parking lot to the city at a roughly $7 million value. (Another section of the hospital campus is current leased to Ocean State Urgent Care.)
A copy of the donation agreement between Paolino and the city says property taxes he owes the city on that building will be forgiven in exchange for the donation, and a related court action will be dropped. The main building will be transferred to the city’s custody by the end of the year, while the other two parcels will transfer ownership by next summer.
The 8-story hospital on Peace Street in South Providence will become a dual-language school serving pre-K through 8th grade, Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said Tuesday.
The hospital will need significant renovations, pegged at $75 million in a new list of school capital improvements the city released Tuesday afternoon. The plan includes at least two other pre-K through 8th grade schools, a new model for Providence, which currently separates its elementary and middle school students.
Infante-Green and Mayor Jorge Elorza said the current model can be difficult for middle schoolers as they transition from smaller elementary schools (Providence has 21) to seven large middle schools.
“You go from this very personalized learning environment to these massive buildings with 1200 kids,” Elorza said. “And that’s where a lot of kids start getting lost in the shuffle. That’s why it’s important to us to change our model.”
The Johns Hopkins report released last summer pinpointed a decline in academics and increase in school violence to middle school.
The updated five-year $300 million school capital plan represents the new dynamic between the city and the R.I. Department of Education, which took control of Providence’s school district last fall. While the state controls almost every aspect of how the district operates, the city still owns and controls the school buildings themselves.
The new project list released by the city Tuesday includes a $25 million renovation of the Spaziano Elementary School and Spaziano Annex, which is proposed to be rebuilt to be a pre-K through 8 school in time for the start of school in fall 2023.
The Carl G. Lauro Elementary School is also on the list for a major renovation into a pre-K through 8 school, pegged at $34 million.
The Spaziano project is listed as a Phase 1 project, while the Carl Lauro and St. Joseph’s Hospital projects are listed in Phase 2.
A city spokesperson said the new school in the old hospital should be built by the fall of 2024.
On a tour of the hospital building Tuesday afternoon, Infante-Green said the renovations would likely include knocking down many of the interior walls, since the former patient rooms are too small to be classrooms.
“We want to make this a state-of-the-art building,” Infante-Green said.
Paolino said he hoped the school’s location will bring more private investment into the neighborhood.
The new schools plan also calls for using the vacant Windmill Street School as swing space during construction, at a $30 million cost to renovate. Elorza said the plan would be to keep it as a school in the future.
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The projects are subject to the City Council approval and a voter referendum this November for a $140 million bond. Voters already approved a $160 million school construction bond in 2018 that has not yet been borrowed or spent, bringing the total cost of the capital project list to $300 million.
The vast majority of that spending could ultimately be reimbursed by the state through the R.I. Department of Education. A spokesperson for RIDE said Providence’s reimbursement rate for capital projects is 82% and “bonus” criteria in the city’s application could mean the state would reimburse 91% of the $300 million cost.
If voters reject the bond in November, the donation of the hospital building will be nullified, according to the contract.