The site originally eyed as the home of a proposed new elementary school could prove “cost prohibitive,” Superintendent of Schools Bernard DiLullo said Tuesday.
DiLullo discussed the potential site during a May interview with the Sun Rise, explaining that the administration was focusing on an 18-acre parcel behind the Johnston Recreation Center for the location of a new, state-of-the-art educational facility. The site would accommodate the 10- to 12-acre land requirement for the project.
This week, however, DiLullo said the area may not be suitable based on further deliberation. It might not be financially feasible, as sewers and electricity would have to be installed, so the district is still examining its options. He said finding a location remains “the biggest challenge.”
“In Johnston, there’s not a lot of buildable, large parcels of land, and that’s been the challenge, because a school of the size we’re talking needs about between 10 and 12 acres, and that’s a buildable 10 to 12 acres,” DiLullo said. “Johnston has a lot of ledge. It has to be an area that has sewer and water, and not all areas have sewer or water, so that becomes the challenge.”
DiLullo previously laid out his vision for the school, including technology integration with an ability to key in on math, science and engineering skills. He also emphasized the inclusion of art rooms, music rooms and gymnasiums, which he said in May are “lacking at this point in our elementary schools.”
He said that while the desired site may have changed, those objectives have not. However, the district may have to step away from the concept of creating an education hub in the center of town, as the building would have been next door to Nicholas A. Ferri Middle School and Johnston High School.
“It may not be kind of locally here,” DiLullo said. “We still like to think of the new building as a central elementary school. It may be close to here depending on what we find, but not necessarily right in this general vicinity.”
DiLullo described the working relationship with Colliers and Robinson Green Beretta Architects, or RGB, as “fabulous.” Colliers is working on phase one documents – which cover district needs and engineering plans – and DiLullo fully expects to meet the Rhode Island Department of Education’s Sept. 16 submission deadline.
If the first phase receives approval – which could take up to a few weeks – the group would move forward with phase two. DiLullo said the site issue would have to be shored up by the phase two February deadline.
“One of the things that may happen is our plans may change based on finding an appropriate site, a large enough site. If not, we may have to look at other options … renovating a couple of the existing buildings,” he said. “Hopefully, that’s not where we go. Hopefully, we can afford and plan for a new building.”
He said a recent enrollment projection put the school at between 900 and 1,000 students, which would easily qualify it as the largest in the district. DiLullo estimated Ferri and Johnston High have about 800 students each. It would dwarf the approximately 380 students at Winsor Hill Elementary School, which DiLullo said is the highest figure for any primary education facility in town.
DiLullo said that in order to receive the substantial incentives the state offers, the district would have to break ground by 2022.
“There are incentives around fewer and newer buildings, and that’s kind of what we’re looking at,” he said. “Looking at consolidating our elementary schools, energy efficiency, there’s those kind of points that you get in terms of reimbursement from the state. So we’re hoping to get 50 percent reimbursement on the cost of that building.”
DiLullo said that public response has been quiet thus far, but he expects to hear more once the project moves farther down the road.
“That’s the interesting piece of it,” he said. “I have not heard a lot of feedback, in terms of the public, and really we haven’t been out kind of with design or location or anything like that, so my guess is once that happens we’ll get some feedback.”