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Committee planning for school renovations

October 29, 2011

PAWTUCKET — Although the ambitious undertaking of renovating the city’s aged school buildings is still on the horizon, school officials are forging ahead with obtaining an educational specifications report that would be necessary for any such construction.
At a special meeting on Thursday, the School Committee voted to approve the awarding of a contract for educational specifications to MGT of America, Inc. The $39,938 cost of the specifications report is to be paid by bond funds, said Schools Supt. Deborah Cylke.
MGT of America, Inc. is the company that was hired by school officials to do a facilities assessment and educational adequacy of all 15 of the district’s school buildings plus the Alternative Learning Program. Completed last March, the assessment rated all of the school buildings as to their structural soundness, educational suitability and technology capabilities, and concluded that a total of $152 million in renovations would be needed to bring the city’s schools up to current standards and guidelines.
Cylke told The Times that the school district would be able to be reimbursed almost 75 percent by the state for each school renovation project. However, she also noted that with the state’s current budget crisis, this reimbursement funding is currently frozen.
Yet, Cylke said she wants to plan ahead, and that the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) has a lengthy process called Necessity of Construction that a school district must go through before any such renovations will be considered for reimbursement. She said the facilities assessment constituted phase one of the process and the educational specifications will be phase two. After that, the next step would be to hire an architect to draw up renovation plans based on the educational specifications, and lastly, the renovation projects would be prioritized and put to voters as a bond issue on a referendum.
Cylke said she was advised by Joseph DaSilva, who oversees the Necessity of Construction process for RIDE, that it made sense to have the firm that completed the facilities assessment also construct the educational specifications for Pawtucket. She said the firm would develop specifications for an elementary school, middle school, high school and alternative learning center. She also said that since the Providence School District had recently constructed new schools in each of these categories, the study would be adapting many of the specifications for use in Pawtucket.
A key part of the educational specifications development, said Cylke, relies on a wide-ranging focus group that includes teachers and administrators, coaches and youth group leaders, custodians, parents, students, and other members of the community. “This is important because the community owns the schools,” said Cylke.
The panel will all provide input into what the buildings should look like and various features. The buildings must also conform to not only the latest educational guidelines, but also the current L.E.E.D. specifications regarding energy efficiency and environmental practices. “These specifications will show what a 21st century educational learning environment should look like. Obviously, some of our schools were built to specifications from 1917 and 1930,” Cylke noted.
The superintendent said she is fully aware of the financial impact of the school renovations. Yet, she said she wants to be poised to move when the state’s moratorium on school renovation reimbursements is lifted. “The bottom line is, you can’t even think of renovating any of these schools before these other processes are complete,” said Cylke.
Cylke added that there has been a lot of “deferred maintenance” in regard to the city’s schools, with the newest building being over 30 years-old. She said having a renovation plan in place was “high on my priority list when I came to Pawtucket.”
In other matters, the School Committee on Wednesday approved three administrative appointments: a one-year contract for Edna Coia, of West Warwick to be principal at the Varieur School; a contract for Patty DiCenso, of Cranston, to be a secondary school performance officer; and a one-year appointment for Kim McCaughey, of Coventry, to be an administrative facilitator for school improvement.

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