SOUTH KINGSTOWN — After the school committee unanimously greenlighted moving forward with relocating the high school last week, the school building committee has jumped into action, ready to move full steam ahead. 

Rather than renovating the existing high school on Columbia Street, the district’s Stage II Necessity of Construction application to the Rhode Island Department of Education will now center around adding an addition and renovating the existing Curtis Corner Middle School. The new home of South Kingstown High School is expected to cost $62 million. 

Although the extensive application process will include a variety of data collection, impact studies and analyses, Sam Bradner, a managing partner of Peregrine Group, assured the committee that project cap budget management would also be taken into account.

“We know that this is extremely important, not only to everyone in the room and everyone on this team, but also to the entire community,” Bradner said. 

They’ll be working throughout this process, revisiting costs, program and design, to ensure that “not only are we meeting the educational goals of the community, but also the budgetary constraints,” he said. 

The school improvement budget is being set at $85 million — $17 million of which will be used for an addition at Broad Rock Middle School. The remainder of the funds will be channeled into the district’s four elementary schools, which several community members have criticized as being far too little for the amount of work that needs to be done. 

Already, members of the school committee have requested that this bond referendum be placed on the November ballot. The hope, given that it’s a presidential election year, is that the entire community will weigh in on the proposal.

Although things may change as things move forward, town manager Robert Zarnetske made it abundantly clear that the numbers would not. Only the scope of the project would change, he said, not the $85 million price tag.

“This is our limit,” Zarnetske said. “We’re going to go with this limit because we know the harm [that a higher limit could cause]. Therefore, any management going forward is management in scope, not budget.”

This means that changes will be to designs and finishes — agreeing that $85 million is the hard cap, not the negotiating cap.

Director of Administrative Services Aimee Reiner and Zarnetske, himself, have expressed concerns about getting halfway through the addition at Curtis Corner and finding out that there isn’t enough money to finish the project or do any renovations to the existing structure.

Doubts have been expressed about moving forward with this plan, but Savastano truly sees Curtis Corner as a better use of space for educational instruction. Some designs, she said, would not be feasible with the cellular design of Columbia Street.

Open learning spaces can have a huge, positive impact on numerous classrooms, she said, that lead to better educational outcomes. 

“Physically, Columbia Street is a solid building,” Zarnetske said. “Physically, the cinder block structure that is Curtis Corner is not as solid. It shouldn’t be surprising to us that the engineers would say one building is preferable to the other. The educators prefer Curtis Corner to Columbia Street.”

This project would create a good educational environment, he said. 

Throughout the spring and summer months, RGB Architects, Owner’s Project Manager (OPM) and Peregrine, will be working to collect site, building and systems data, will provide demographic updates and take a deep-dive on traffic impacts. A geotechnical review, given the concerns about ledge on the site, will also be taken,

 Bradner reminded the committee, however, that data collection is costly.

Through the spring and summer months, the project development groups and the building committee will be working on community engagement. 

Later this month, on Saturday, Feb. 22 at 1 p.m., a community-wide meeting in the high school cafeteria will ask residents what they think should happen with the Columbia Street property. 

How the town will unload the property has been an ongoing concern among the building and school committee members alike. Though Zarnetske sees this as part of the building committee’s charge, he and others believe it’s important to receive feedback from the community. 

One suggestion so far has been turning the Columbia Street property into affordable housing units. 

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