NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — North Kingstown voters will soon consider a so-called $222-million “mega bond” that would fund the consolidation of two middle schools and build a brand new public safety complex.
Michael Waterman, chief operating officer of the North Kingstown School Department, tells 12 News that the town’s middle schools can’t accommodate 21st century learning.
Waterman pointed to the server rack at Wickford Middle School as an example. The nucleus of the school’s electronics is currently being stored in a staff bathroom.
“We are underneath a couple of water lines,” Waterman explained to 12 News during a tour of the school back in September. “This is the main hub for any technology coming in or out of the building.”
Winding through the halls of the building, Waterman showed how difficult it can be for wheelchair-bound students to get to class.
Waterman said the students not only have to wait for an elevator, but they also have to cut through a classroom — while class is in session — and use a chair lift to get into the cafeteria, followed by a second chair lift to access the rest of the building.
Throughout the tour, Waterman also pointed out damaged ceiling tiles and a room blocked off due to asbestos. He said patching holes and painting can only go so far.
“This building is well built, but it’s tired,” he said.
The majority of residents will head to the polls Nov. 7 to vote on a bond that would allow the town to combine Wickford Middle School and Davisville Middle School. Early voting is already underway.
North Kingstown Superintendent Kenny Duva estimates the new school would cost $130 million.
But that $130 million is just one piece of a much larger vote.
Earlier this year, the town decided to combine $167 million in school repairs with the construction of a brand new $55-million public safety complex. That means residents would be deciding whether the town should spend $222 million in one vote.
“It’s like make believe monopoly money to them,” North Kingstown resident Frank Sullivan said.
Sullivan is one of numerous residents who oppose Question 1, which has been dubbed the “mega bond.”
He feels now is a bad time for the town to spend hundreds of millions of dollars. Sullivan also worries approving the bond would lead to a big bump in taxes.
“Interest rates are at a 20-year high,” he said. “What about the interest rates? What about waiting for the interest rates to come down? They haven’t thought this through. They haven’t made a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to this.”
But North Kingstown School Committee Chair Erin Earle said residents should approve the money now because the town could lose out on the state’s reimbursement program that expires next year.
“If we don’t do this project now, the town’s going to have to do it eventually because something that’s really important to me is investing in a building that we’re going to use for 30 to 40 years,” Earle explained.
The district would be eligible for a minimum of 35% in reimbursements through the state’s program, but it all depends on if the district meets certain requirements. If those requirements are met for the middle school project, the town could be eligible for up to 52.5% in reimbursements.
Residents who are against the bond are concerned about how prepared the district is to meet those requirements. But Duva said the district has a plan.
Earlier this month, the district shared a video showing what the outside of the new school would look like. Duva told 12 News he feels confident the district will meet the state’s February deadline.
“In the conversations we’ve had with [the Rhode Island Department of Education], a new school is going to meet that requirement,” he said.
The rest of the $167 million designated for the school repairs would be put toward other buildings in the district. Specifically, Duva said at least $25 million would be used to replace all of the roofs.