SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Members of the school building committee were presented with slightly reconfigured design options on Tuesday night, which depicted changes to the student parking lot and the relocation of the tennis courts. 

In both designs, a student parking was shifted off of a small playfield near South Road School and relocated toward the front of the school. The first iteration called for relocating the tennis courts on top of the small practice, which failed to gain support from recreation commission members who’d reached out to the school building committee and architects with concern over the loss of park space.

“We did get some feedback that there was still some intrusion on the recreation portion of the sight, that it’s used for both the school and the town,” said RGB Architects Associate Principal Tracey Donnelly. 

“There was strong concern for the loss of the general use field up there,” said Project Manager Sam Bradner of the Peregrine Group, noting the feedback from Recreation Commission Chair David Palazzetti, who’d been upset with the loss of recreation space. 

“I don’t think he walked away completely satisfied with the results of the planning process, which is one of the reasons why we did go back and make some additional adjustments,” Bradner said. “We did talk through the balance of parking on the site, as well as how do we fit in the program requirement of the school and the existing program activities of the rec commission and the department of leisure services?”

A second option, which would relocate the tennis courts to the back parking lot of South Road School, would save the small, multipurpose field from being paved over, but raised concerns from several town employees. 

Town Manager Robert Zarnetske and Director of Administrative Services Aimee Reiner questioned how close the tennis courts would bump up to the exterior of South Road School, and Town Council Vice President Bryant Da Cruz worried that this relocation could make it difficult to get rid of the old school building. 

Facilities Superintendent Mark Russo also highlighted a major potential issue with these plans, since the tennis courts would be “right on top of a septic system that we have in the back of South Road School.”

“I don’t know how they’re going to account for that,” Russo said. “We’ve got septic and we’ve got a cesspool tank that we pump out twice a year. That’s something we have to take a look at.”

Discussion of maintaining playing fields for school and recreational use prompted school committee member Kate Macinanti to questions where the lines between district and town property lie. 

“Those lines are squishy,” according to Zarnetske, and in reality, the land is one big parcel owned by the taxpayers. 

Reiner said she agrees with the recreation commissions requests to remain whole throughout this, and that she appreciates efforts to explore all options. 

Director of Leisure Services Terry Murphy said she was happy to see a second option on the table, though she did share some concerns of potential overflow of student parking and residents not being able to use and enjoy the park while class is in session. The town and the schools have been balancing the use of the fields for years, she said, and keeping the program whole is essential for students and every other recreation user.

Discussions of these potential changes to the design only dominated the first hour of a four-hour-long meeting, which also devoted time towards discussions of how the district could work towards creating a more green, sustainable learning space, and the additional cost estimate expenditures. 

Zarnetske stated that the question of whether or not the school committee would want to hire a second set of eyes to go over project cost estimates. Bradner suggested a firm that would cost roughly $44,000, prompting questions from Town Councilwoman Deb Kelso over why these costs weren’t already included as part of their contract. 

Since this issue will appear as part of a special bond referendum if the district’s Stage II Application is approved by the Rhode Island Department of Education, Kelso said she would have been in favor of paying for additional cost estimations before going to voters. 

“My question is how did this become an add-on and not part of the contract,” Kelso said. 

Bradner pointed out that the Peregrine Group is in its third version of a contract extension with the district since the scope of the project has been changed three times now. 

“There was no way we were going to be able to put a number around an estimate that was always excluded,” he said. “We agreed that when finalized our proposal with administration and town leadership, that until we knew exactly what the scope was, we couldn’t give you an exact number of the cost estimate.”

He stressed that this is an option, and not something that’s being forced on the district, and that his company hasn’t been devious or sleight of hand. 

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