By DAVID PEPIN
East Greenwich School Superintendent Victor Mercurio will have a new entrance, administrative and guidance offices, and science labs to show off for the New England Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation when it visits East Greenwich High School April 14-18.
Downstairs, however, lies what could be the Achilles’ heel of the school’s effort to win accreditation for the next 10 years: the library and media center.
Mercurio told the School Building Committee last night that failure to fund a plan to renovate the library could put a crimp in its accreditation push.
“This is the kind of thing that gets schools put on probation,” said Mercurio, who has served on NEASC accreditation teams that have evaluated other high schools in the region.
Mercurio has championed a $550,000 plan to upgrade the library’s lighting and technological capacity using some of the estimated $6.2 million in surplus funds from the $52 million school improvement bond approved by voters in 2008. He has pointed out the insufficient Internet capacity into the library, which makes it difficult or sometimes impossible for students to use computers there during class time, and that the high school has less technological capacity than the new Cole Middle School, scheduled to opoen April 25.
The surplus funds, though, may be running out after the Town Council accepted the School Committee’s request last month to use $3.8 million on roof repairs at the high school, Meadowbrook Farms School and Frenchtown School.
Building Committee Chairman Jay Gowell said only $300,000 in surplus funds would be left if the School Committee accepted its recommendation to install a new flooring system at Meadowbrook, along with a new heating and ventilation system with digital controls. The building panel had recommended a complete revamp of flooring and HVAC in January, but the School Committee only committed to the roof repair.
Jonathan Winokur, principal of SBS, management firm for the project, said additional money could potentially be recovered through funds allocated for other work that hasn’t taken place yet.
Architect Ed Frenette of SMMA, consulting firm for the project, laid out three options for library renovations:
* $490,000 for painting, carpeting, voice data and video technology, and furniture, fixtures and equipment.
* $700,000 for an extensive renovation gutting the current library,
* $1.2 million for an extensive renovation including mechanical, electrical and plumbing work/
The board eventually arrived at a consensus of staying within the $490,000-$700,000 for work on the 4,100-square-foot library, which was cold enough to force some School Committee members to keep their coats on during preliminary budget meetings there.
The lighting is also somewhat dim, with Frenette noting the library does not have the advantage of natural lighting.
“If you’re creative, you can do it for $490,000. If you’re creative but need a little help, you can do it for $700,000,” Mercurio said.
The somewhat dingy atmosphere, he said, stands in stark contrast to the rest of the school.
“The library and media center is a huge disconnect from the rest of the building. I’ve been in media centers in Dorchester and New Haven that are light-years ahead of where we are,” he said.
Town Council Vice President Henry Boezi blamed the original plan for the 40-year-old building, noting that modern school buildings usually put the media center closer to the entrance.
“I thought it was poorly planned to begin with. You don’t put the library downstairs,” he said.
School Committee member David Green agreed that the lighting needs to be improved, but said slipshod maintenance and supervision of the facility is also to blame.
“It looks disorderly, and needs to be maintained better,” he said.
Part of the problem, Mercurio said, is the library’s limited operating hours, with a 2:30 p.m. closing that prohibits extensive use after school.
“I would bet you the first thing NEASC tells us is ‘Be sure the library is open before and after school.’ It’s a staffing issue,” he said.