Superintendent of Johnston Schools Bernard DiLullo expounded Tuesday morning on a School Committee vote to enter into negotiations with Providence-based Robinson Green Beretta Architects or RGB, for the potential construction of a new elementary school.
DiLullo, as he has in previous interviews with the Sun Rise, emphasized that the project is still in its very early stages. The first phase – which includes engineering and identifying district needs – isn’t due to the Rhode Island Department of Education until Sept. 16.
“So you’re not even looking at a building design, you’re not even looking at the cost of a new building,” DiLullo said during an interview in his office. “You’re saying, ‘We think this is how we can best serve our students.’ And then RIDE will give us the go-ahead to phase two, which kind of is more the nuts and bolts of getting to a building.”
DiLullo told the Sun Rise in May that in an ideal timeline, the district could see a new elementary school in a few years. The building would house grades one through four, with grade five heading to what is now the Early Childhood Center at Ferri Middle School. DiLullo said then that he is eyeing a school that “serves the 21st-century learning skills of our students.”
The Building Committee met Monday night at 5 p.m. to hear presentations from four different architectural firms, which DiLullo said included a discussion about the companies’ employees, experiences, skills and more. Presentations lasted about 20 minutes, with 10 minutes reserved afterward for questions and answers.
Eventually, the committee voted to move RGB Architects on to the full School Committee. The board unanimously approved entering into negotiations with RGB. DiLullo said he and a few others will meet with RGB, hopefully at the end of this week.
A special School Committee meeting would follow within the next few weeks to officially hire RGB.
“They discussed the plan for our project,” DiLullo said. “ It was a two-hour process, but it was informative. Those four companies submitted their interest in working with us – all quality companies, but RGB seemed to be the choice.”
DiLullo said RGB was selected because of its experience in Rhode Island, combined with its educational background. Project manager Tracy Donnelly and owner’s project manager Andrew Barkley presented for RGB, the latter of whom has a background in educational planning.
“Most of the people that they use are actually on their staff, they don’t pull from other companies,” DiLullo said. “Their presentation was very informative. They were one of the only companies that kind of understood the whole reimbursement process from the state. So their presentation was excellent.”
The phase one submission is RIDE’s chance to provide feedback on the district’s plans, DiLullo said. If hired, RGB will also examine the conditions of Ferri Middle School and Johnston High School along with the elementary schools.
“A number of things could happen,” DiLullo said. “One thing that could happen is they agree with us that we need a new building, or based on the architect’s observations of our existing buildings it could be updating those. So one of two things could happen. That would be a major switch from the direction we’re going in.”
DiLullo said RGB would compare their evaluations to the figures in the Jacobs Report, the 2017 analysis that found $2.2 billion worth of facility deficiencies throughout Rhode Island schools.
The report showed that the high school had an $11.2 million facility deficiency cost, while Ferri and the Early Childhood Center came in at a total of $7.1 million. Sarah Dyer Barnes led the elementary schools at $4.1 million, followed by Thornton at $2.9 million, Winsor Hill at $2.6 million and Brown Avenue at $1.8 million. Graniteville School’s figure is listed at $3.2 million.
“They look at the Jacobs Report first, look at the outcome of the Jacobs Report, and then they go into our buildings to see how close their assessment is to that report,” DiLullo said. “They not only do the elementary schools, but also the middle school and the high school, because again the question of equity comes up. So all of your other buildings have to be pretty well aligned with the new building in offering the same level of educational experiences.”
DiLullo said he was pleased with all four presentations, but ultimately the professionalism, preparation and knowledge he saw from RGB won him over.
“They really did their homework on understanding what our goals are,” DiLullo said. “[Based on] their knowledge of the RIDE process and what’s required for those submissions, [RGB] just seemed to have a lot of good experience.”