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Students return to Nathanael Greene

June 4, 2013

PAWTUCKET — Students at the Nathanael Greene Elementary School at 285 Smithfield Ave. returned to class as planned on Tuesday after work was done to reinforce or remove loosened ceiling material.
The Potter-Burns Elementary School at 973 Newport Ave. reopened on Monday after similar work was completed following the detachment of a ceiling in an unoccupied basement classroom on May 22.
Schools Supt. Deborah Cylke said Tuesday she was pleased the contractor, Ahlborg Construction, had been able to complete the remedial ceiling work without further delay. However, what lies ahead for the two schools is a more permanent ceiling repair as well as some minor repair work at four other city schools that are of an advanced age.
Cylke said she is in discussions with Mayor Donald Grebien and the administration about the scope of the repairs and how to pay for them. She said the main question will concern how much borrowing the city can afford to take on to pay for the work without affecting its current bond rating.
Moody's Investors Service recently affirmed Pawtucket's Baa2 rating on its $38.3 million of outstanding long-term debt, but has also maintained a “negative outlook” on that debt.
Also, Cylke said these discussions need to include the broader plans to renovate the city's 16 schools once the state Department of Education lifts its moratorium on construction in 2014. She noted that a Facilities Sub-Committee has been meeting for the past year and a half to discuss the recommendations of an independent assessment that pointed to $152 million in needed renovations. A big consideration with the bonding is that the state would reimburse the city 75 percent of the costs of the projects once the moratorium is lifted, she pointed out.
Because the state did not have a moratorium on construction projects having to do with health and safety issues, school officials requested (and voters approved last fall) a bond of $8 million. However, much of this money has already been earmarked for projects such as new furnaces and fire alarm systems and did not include structural work.
When asked about the ceiling repairs on Tuesday, Grebien issued a statement saying, “As we have from the beginning, the Mayor's Office will continue working closely with Schools Supt. Cylke, school officials and the affected schools as we determine the best way to fund the needed repairs. There are several potential sources of funding, but as of yet, no decision has been made on what the most appropriate sources of funding should be.”
Grebien added, “I will be working with the superintendent to make that determination and move the repair decisions along as soon as possible.”
The ceiling safety issues at Potter-Burns and Greene schools, both built almost a century ago, prompted inspections of several other older buildings in the school district. Cylke said that no similar structural problems were found after inspections by an engineer for Edward Rowse Architects along with the city fire marshal and building inspector.
The inspections did reveal the need for other repair work, but all of the schools were cleared for occupancy for regular classes. At Slater Junior High, inspectors found the need for minor repairs to a stairwell and further inspection of the principal's office; and at Shea High School, four classrooms were closed for repairs where ceilings had been previously opened to allow plumbing access, and the pool and gym were closed pending an examination of their high ceilings that requires use of a lift. Also, at Goff Junior High, the gym was closed pending repair of a beam. No ceiling problems were found at Tolman High School.
The last day of classes is June 26 for all schools except Potter-Burns and Nathanael Greene, where two make-up days, June 27 and 28, have been added. Cylke has sought a waiver from the state Commissioner of Education for the additional days that the two elementary schools had to be closed for the ceiling work.
Follow Donna Kenny Kirwan on Twitter @KirwanDonna

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