SOUTH KINGSTOWN – If the school facilities project continued to advance forward, the district’s architectural firm may likely be left behind. 

On Tuesday, the South Kingstown School Committee voted to begin the process of sending out a request for proposal for a new architect firm. The facilities project, which includes plans to relocate the high school to Curtis Corner, place an addition on Broad Rock and make improvements at all four elementary schools, will first need to gain approval from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) and the votes of South Kingstown. 

And while there’s a wide array of opinion over whether or not the district should move forward with these plans, there have been a number of voices that have spoken out against continuing with the current architectural firm. 

“I think everybody’s kind of excited about a fresh start with a new architect,” said Superintendent Linda Savastano.

Two weeks ago, the town council voted in favor of submitting the district’s Stage II Necessity of School Construction application to RIDE — a plan that has been years in the making. 

In Stage II, school districts work with architects and engineers to develop solutions for either repairing or replacing their outdated facilities. Together, they create “schematic design documentation that can be used to provide dependable cost estimates.”

If the project delineated in South Kingstown’s Stage II application is approved by RIDE, the $85 million bond project will go before the voters for approval. If the community rejects these plans, the district will have to start over at square one, but if it’s approved, the project will advance to Stage III. 

This next stage will focus entirely on design review.

Although RGB Architects will be there to answer any questions RIDE might have on the Stage II application, the district is free to explore working with other firms going forward. 

“From this point forward, once Stage II is done, we would be going out to bid, putting out a [request for proposal], for a new architect,” according to Savastano, which is something the school committee has been discussing “all along.”

By working with Project Manager Samuel Bradner of The Peregrine Group, Town Manager Robert Zarnetske, school building committee leadership and the school committee, Savastano said the district will be able “to step through this part of the process so that we don’t lose time.” 

School Committee Chair Emily Cummiskey also made the recommendation to work with other boards and committees, like the sustainability committee, on what should be going into the request for proposal (RFP). 

By doing this, Cummiskey hopes to attract a “diverse group of architects, and architects who’d be interested in making this project really exciting.” 

“I want to make sure we’re putting out an ask for what our community would really value,” she said. “I think it would be helpful to pull in some other folks to have some of these discussions.”

School committee member Kate Macinanti, who also sits on the school building committee, made sure this agenda item was thoroughly explained. According to Macinanti, she gets asked by community members, on a regular basis, about “our current affiliation with the previous architects.” 

“I always say, ‘After Stage II is submitted, then we go out to RFP,’” Macinanti said. 

School Committee Vice Chair Christie Fish acknowledged the importance of highlighting this agenda item, noting that many school committee members have been asked about this subject in the past. 

A number of community members have voiced their dissatisfaction with the current architectural firm over this past year, though Recreation Commission Chair David Palazzetti has been one of the most vocal on this issue. While his attention was initially drawn to the high school relocation project because of the recreation space that will be lost, he has raised a number of red flags with regard to design and project cost. 

At last month’s commission meeting, prior to the town council’s vote on submission, Palazzetti also expressed concerns over whether or not the district would be able to meet important deadlines for state reimbursement, even if a new architectural firm is hired. 

Community members Dorald Beasley, who has been actively involved in the school building committee matters for years now, has also voiced his concerns with the architectural firm. 

School committee member Melissa Boyd abstained from the vote, and member Michelle Brousseau cast the lone, dissenting vote on this matter.

With regards to how to handle the school building projects social media presence, the school committee members will be looking to members of the school building committee for advice and suggestions. 

School committee member Paula Whitford initially expressed concern over sharing information on platforms like Facebook, however, because of the “very negative threads” that stem from anything that’s posted about the schools.

Being able to connect people with information from the school building committee is vital, according to school committee member Sarah Markey, since there seems to be a lot of misinformation out there. Social media posting shouldn’t be made to sway public opinion, she said, but it will likely spark comments and debates from community members over whether or not to support the project at the polls. 

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