'Beginning of the beginning'

DiLullo talks location, possible timeline for new elementary school

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If everything breaks right for Johnston, there could be a new elementary school in the middle of town in a few years.

Superintendent of Johnston Schools Dr. Bernard DiLullo discussed the proposed site, potential challenges and a rough timeline during an interview with the Sun Rise last week. The area, which is greater than 18 acres total, is located behind the Johnston Recreation Center and Johnston High School. He said the district would need about 12 acres of land for the school.

DiLullo said the land is mostly wooded right now, and there will have to be determinations made on whether there are wetlands on the property and how much of it can be built up.

The district has Colliers developing phase one of the application process, which is due in September. DiLullo said phase one mostly consists of preliminary steps, such as engineering, discussions with the Department of Environmental Management and architectural work.

“It’s a town parcel, so it’s already owned by the town, and it’s kind of in the center of town,” DiLullo said, stressing the project is still in the very early stages. “So the nice thing about it, if that becomes an elementary school, we have our middle school, our high school and our elementary school in one location, which is nice.”

DiLullo said the new school would incorporate grades one through four, with grade five getting moved to the current Early Childhood Center at Ferri Middle School. He said it would provide some separation from Ferri students, but “they’d be part of that middle school experience.”

Kindergarten and preschool would still be housed under one roof. He added that, in an ideal scenario, phases one and two would be complete in time for a bond referendum in 2020. If that passed, construction could get underway in the spring of 2021.

DiLullo said that with current state incentives that would reimburse the district for some of the expenses, it’s a chance Johnston can’t afford to ignore.

“We’re looking at a building that serves the 21st-century learning skills of our students. So, hub areas where kids can work cooperatively,” DiLullo said. “Technology integration throughout the whole building. The ability to focus on math, science and engineering is big. So we want all of those components to be present in that elementary school, in addition to art rooms, music rooms, gymnasiums, which are lacking at this point in our elementary schools.”

The School Building Committee meets once a month, but those will be doubled if phase one goes through in September.

“We’ll increase the meetings after that because that becomes the true work in terms of building design, educational purpose, feedback from the community,” DiLullo said. “It kind of shifts into high gear after that preliminary step is completed.”

Colliers’ Martin Dow presented a video to the committee during its most recent meeting on May 13. A drone captured an overhead view of the land proposed for the new school, and Dow said it would be a “great area.”

He also stressed that they are “at the very beginning of the beginning” in the process.

“We talked a little bit about the best way to approach this. We kind of carved out our thumbprint on this particular area of land. We think it has a lot of potential,” Dow said. “We know that there’s a house in the back over here that potentially may or may not be in the way, we don’t know yet. But potentially we could have two roads that are coming on to this new campus.”

Dow pointed out that the land is centrally located not only near the middle and high schools, but also emergency medical facilities like the Police and Fire departments. He said Colliers has received permission from the Town Council to draft requests for proposals from architects, civil engineers and environmental firms for early work.

He said there will be a review of the draft RFPs on June 24. There are still several steps ahead for what was described as the “first step in the marathon.”

The committee unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with the Rhode Island Department of Education for $150,000 to cover technical assistance, the project manager and assessment of property.

DiLullo told the board that “if we use it appropriately,” the money does not have to be reimbursed.

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