COVENTRY — Plans to revamp Coventry’s outdated school buildings took a significant step forward Monday, as the town council voted to authorize the submittal of the Necessity of School Construction Stage I application.
Philip Conte, president of the architecture firm Studio JAED, spoke during a recent town council meeting about the multi-stage application through the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) that will qualify the town for state reimbursement on its school renovation projects.
“I want to remind everyone of the vote approved at the state level [during the 2018 election] for the $250 million school bond,” Conte said during the meeting last month. “You don’t want all that money to go to all the other municipalities and miss the opportunity to bring some of that money back to Coventry.”
The Stage I application, a lengthy report detailing the various needs of Coventry’s school buildings, is just the first in a series of applications in the Necessity of School Construction process.
“It’s the definition of the facility needs within the school department,” Conte said of the application, due to the state by Feb. 17.
The process to compile the initial application was twofold, Conte explained.
First, educational visioning sessions yielded seven guiding principals — for example, that schools will be “warm, safe and inviting” and that they’ll be “future ready” — that would inform the school renovation process. A series of community forums were then held at each of the town’s school buildings to gather further input regarding the needs of each specific school.
A facilities assessment was also conducted as a follow up to the 2017 Jacobs report on school facilities statewide. Conte said his firm determined that some $60 million will be required to fix all of Coventry’s school buildings.
“You can imagine going forward that the task is to find that balance,” Conte told councilors. “What is that balance between addressing the immediate facility needs, but also addressing the educational adequacy of Coventry Public Schools?”
It’s in the Stage II application, due in mid-September, that the town will present a thorough solution to the needs identified in Stage I. That process, Conte added, is “much more involved.”
“[Stage II] requires a lot of coordination with the school department and town council… to develop the best solution that responds to the needs but is also responsible to the community and to Coventry’s willingness to go to a bond,” he continued.
It could be that the town chooses ultimately to “only fix the things that are broken,” said Conte, who added that, with a current utilization rate of 77 percent, the district probably doesn’t need to consider new construction.
“Somewhere in the middle is the most prudent path forward,” he added. “That requires a lot more discussion between the administration and the town council.”
Interim Town Manager Ed Warzycha on Monday called submitting the application a “no-brainer,” adding that to do so costs the town nothing.
Submission of the Stage I application doesn’t commit the town to anything, Conte added.
“Stage I submission does not mean that you are endorsing any particular project, any particular dollar amount, it’s not a commitment to bond,” he said. “It is simply [telling] the School Building Authority that Coventry Public Schools has a need, and this is our need.”
If the Stage I application is accepted, the town will be invited to submit its Stage II application. Approval of the second application will be announced in November, and at that point the town will make a decision regarding holding a bond referendum for the project.
The resolution approving the Stage I application’s submittal to RIDE was approved 3-0 Monday, with Councilor Gary Cote and Council Vice President Greg Laboissonniere absent.
After the vote was taken, Councilor Ann Dickson took a moment to recognize Superintendent Craig Levis, School Finance Director Sarah Mangiarelli, School Committee Chair Katherine Patenaude and School Committee Member Luke Murray, who were all in attendance.
“I’d like to thank them for their support,” Dickson said. “We are very happy to support this resolution.”