PAWTUCKET — It's just a study at this point, but an educational building consultant hired to evaluate the conditions of the city's schools told the School Committee Tuesday night that all of them need to be either revamped or replaced to the tune of almost $153 million.
The facilities study done by MGT of America, Inc., was commissioned by Schools Supt. Deborah Cylke with the approval of the School Committee to assess the interior and exterior condition of all of the buildings belonging to the school district. Cylke explained that the state Department of Education has strict regulations regarding any requests for school renovation projects and repairs and wanted to have an accurate and up to date report on the district.
Cylke acknowledged the hefty price tag attached to the capital improvement plan, but noted that the recommendations call for a three-phase plan. She also noted the advanced age of most of the city's school buildings (with the newest one, the Jenks/JMW complex, even being over 30 years old).
“We have to start someplace with experts to help us evaluate the big picture and prioritize,” said Cylke. She added that she viewed the school improvement plan as a “decade-long journey.” She asked the School Committee to accept the report, saying the next step would be to have consultants do an architectural feasibility study to provide a detailed look at the conditions of individual buildings and a cost analysis of remodeling versus new construction.
Cylke also told the committee that the state currently reimburses cities and towns for 75 percent of the cost of remodeling or new school construction.
She said the improvement projects would be done with bonding, which would have to be taken into account with other capital improvement needs that the city decides to embark on.
Cylke also said the school improvement projects would have to be adequately presented to parents and other members of the community through a series of public meetings designed to drum up support.
Dodds Cromwell, MGT of America, Inc., said the recommendation is for a 10-year capital imrpovement plan done in three phases to “remediate the deficiencies” that were found in all of the city's schools. He suggested the first phase could be done for $56.8 million, the second phase for $54.6 million and the third phase for $39.8 million (without adjusting for inflation).
Cromwell said the study evaluated four main areas: each school building's educational suitability, its condition, its technology readiness (having the infrastructure in place to support computer technology) and site conditions (the exterior such as parking, playground/sports facilities, etc.) He said the consultants were charged with developing prioritized facility recommendations and budget projections as well as meeting the reporting requirements of the state Department of Education.
Cromwell said the the school buildings were rated on a 100-point scale where a score of 85 or above is considered “good,” 70-84 is “fair”, 55-69 is “poor” and below 55 is “unsatisfactory.”
Under the educational suitablity scoring matrix, 85-plus or “good” means that the facility is designed to provide for and support the educational program offered. It may have minor suitability issues but generally meets the needs of the educational program. A score of 70-84 or “fair” means that the facility has some problems meeting the needs of the educational program abd may require some remodeling. The rating of 55-69 or “poor” means that the facility has numerous problems meeting the needs of the educational program and needs significant remodeling or additions. A score below 55 and “unsatisfactory” rates the facility as being unsuitable in many areas of the educational program.
In the category of educational suitability, the city's elementary schools ranged from a low of 26.7 to a high of 69.6 for an average score of 45.5 (unsatisfactory). The lowest scores were for Winters Elementary with a 26.7 and Cunningham at 27.5 while the highest ranking went to Fallon Memorial at 69.64 and Curvin-McCabe at 60.12. The other elementary schools earned the following scores: Baldwin, 37.3; Curtis Memorial, 37.1; Nathanael Greene, 56; Agnes Little 54.5; Potter-Burns, 34.7 and Varieur, 51.6.
The middle schools ranked between 34.5 and 74 for an average of 56.4 (poor) (the JMW Arts High School was included with Jenks Junior High School in this category). Scoring lowest was Slater Junior High at 34.5 followed by Goff at 44.18, with Jenks at the high end with a score of 73 and the JMW Arts High School at 74.
The city's high schools (Shea, Tolman and the Alternative Learning Program) scored between 37.8 and 49.9 for an average of 43.3 (unsatisfactory). Shea was rated at 37.8, Tolman at 42.3 and the Alternative Learning Program at 49.9.
The report also rated the school administration building (listed as “other”) as an 84.4 (fair to almost good).
Under the building condition scoring matrix, a score of 80 to 90 of “good” means that the building and/or a majority of its systems are in good condition and only require routine maintenance. (The highest score, a 90-plus for “new or like new” refers to buildings less than one year old and is not applicable in Pawtucket's case). Under the rating if 70-89 for “fair,” the building and/or some of its systems are in fair condition and require minor to moderate repair. A score of 55-69 of “poor” finds that the building and/or a significant number of its systems are in poor condition and require major repair or renovation; while a rating of below 55 as “unsatisfactory” means that the building and/or a majority of its systems should be considered for replacement.
As to building condition, Pawtucket's elementary schools scored a low of 58.9 (for Nathanael Greene) and a high of 79.8 (for Varieur) for an average of 68.1 (poor). The other schools were ranked as follows: Potter-Burns, 60.8; Winters, 61; Baldwin, 64.6; Cunningham, 64.9; Curtis Memorial, 69.5; Agnes Little, 72.7; Fallon Memorial, 73.1; and Curvin-McCabe, 76.
The middle schools earned a low of 54.6 for Slater, and a high of 70.6 for Goff for an average of 61.4 (poor). Jenks and the JMW Arts School located inside of it, were both given a rating of 60.21.
The high schools were ranked a low of 55.5 for Tolman and a high of 80.3 for the Alternative Learning Program for an average of 64.3 (poor), while Shea earned a score of 56.9.
The condition of the administration building (other) was given a score of 80 (good).
For technology readiness, the elementary schools earned an average score of 65.2 (poor), the middle schools scored 63.7 (poor), the high school ranked 70.8 (fair), and the administration earned 62.5 (poor)
Under site condition, the elementary schools averaged 71.4 (fair), the middle schools scored 66.7 (poor), the high schools ranked 71.2 (fair) and the administration building ranked 78.3 (fair).
The entire Educational Facilities Assessment Report is going to be made available on the Pawtucket School Department website, according to school officials.
When doing combined scores in the report, Cromwell said the scores were weighted to give a higher percentage (40 percent each) to more priority needs such as building condition and educational suitability, while technology readiness and site condition were each weighted at 10 percent. Under this scoring scenario, the elementary schools were rated at 59.1 (poor), the middle schools at 60.2 (poor), the high schools at 57.2 (poor) and the administration building at 78.9 (fair).
Based on current constructions costs, Cromwell estimated $230.60 per square foot for elementary schools, $272.52 per square foot for middle schools and $307.44 per square foot for the high schools. The budget projections to bring the schools in line with all four assessment categories were estimated to total at $50 million for the elementary schools, $50.6 million for the middle schools, $50.7 for the high schools and $1.16 million for the administration building, for a district total of $152.5 million.
Cromwell added that in many cases, it is more expensive to renovate a building than to do new construction, and said that a further feasibility study would help school officials make that decision.
He told the committee, “I know it seems like a lot, but you have some old schools, and they are large and they've been here for a long time.” He added that, especially when it comes to rating educational suitability, at the time that some of the city's schools were built, a different style of teaching was in place than is used currently.
School Committeeman Alan Tenreiro commented that while he knows the cost estimates in the report deliver “sticker shock,” he said they were lower than he had originally guessed. He spoke of the importance of getting public support for the long-range school improvement plan, saying, “I think the community would agree that our schools need work.”
Tenriero said that some of the areas cited in the report as needing improvement could be addressed sooner rather than later, such as unsafe drop off/pick up locations that are cited at 13 schools.
School Business Manager Thomas Conlon noted that this study is just one component of a necessary review process that must be undertaken between the school district and the state Department of Education in order to begin any renovation proposal.
With that being said, Conlon noted the need to be realistic about the current economy and the fact that the ability to obtain bonds to pay for projects “is not endless.” “Communities are stressed, but we need to start somewhere to get to the next step,” he stated.
The School Committee voted unanimously to accept the report.