Forums to outline features, cost of 2 new high schools

Posted 7/27/22

In November Warwick will be asked whether the City should issue $350 million in bonds to build new Pilgrim and Toll Gate High Schools.

But before then at least three forums are planned with the …

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Forums to outline features, cost of 2 new high schools


In November Warwick will be asked whether the City should issue $350 million in bonds to build new Pilgrim and Toll Gate High Schools.

But before then at least three forums are planned with the first scheduled for Monday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Pilgrim High School. A second school hosted presentation is scheduled for Toll Gate next Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m.

Assistant Superintendent Bill McCaffrey said that individual questions will be addressed during the forum.

Beacon forum

In addition to the two school-sponsored forums, the Warwick Beacon and the Warwick Rotary Club will host a forum at the Crowne Plaza on Aug. 9 starting at 6 p.m. 

Confirmed panelists for the forum include Superintendent Lynn Dambruch, School Committee Vice Chair David Testa, and City Finance Director Peder Schaefer. There will also be representatives of the Rhode Island Department of Education and a consulting firm to talk about school design to meet today’s needs.

Retired Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice and former Warwick Mayor Francis Flaherty will serve as moderator. The plan is to live stream the forum on the school, as well as, the Beacon and Warwick Public Library websites.

“This is not a forum advocating for or against voter approval of the bond,” said Beacon publisher and editor, John Howell. “Rather it is aimed at providing information on why this bond issue is on the ballot, what is planned and what it means to Warwick.”

Following an overview, members of the public will have the opportunity to ask questions. Architectural of the proposed schools will be on display with personnel present to answer questions.  

The project

The pursuit of building a new Pilgrim and Toll Gate began last year after the Rhode Island Department of Education denied an application for the district to renovate the two schools.

It meant the school district going back to the drawing board.

Eventually it was decided to pursue approval from RIDE along with approval by the City Council for permission from the General Assembly to put the question on the ballot this fall.

In June the final hurdle was cleared when the General Assembly gave their blessing.

The current projected cost for the two new schools is $350 million, according to Director of Capital and Construction Projects Steve Gothberg.

On May 17 the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education approved a reimbursable amount of approximately $314.5 million. The school district originally thought RIDE would approve a reimbursable amount of $300 million.

Gothberg said that currently the maximum amount the district can receive from RIDE for reimbursements is 50 percent. If RIDE approves the district at that amount it would mean the total amount taxpayers would be on the hook for is around $192.7 million.

It was pointed out by Gothberg that the district was also awarded about $14.5 million in “pay as you go funds,” which would allow the city to bond for less.

Gothberg said Monday the district is still waiting on a final report which could give the district an extra 2.5 percent in reimbursements from RIDE. He said that good news is expected.

“When the State commissioned Jacobs Engineering to evaluate all school buildings they gave each building a Facilities Condition Index, FCI score, anything 65 or over would receive an additional 5 percent  reimbursement bonus to be replaced,”  Gothberg previously told the School Committee. “We expect that Pilgrim’s score will raise from 56 to 65 or above and be eligible for that 5 percent  bonus. As Warwick is capped at 52.5 percent  we would only gain the 2.5 percent  as we are already eligible for 3 5 percent  bonuses bringing us to 50 percent.” 

Gothberg said that the extra 2.5 percent would equal around $7.8 million.

Additionally, a statewide bond is on the ballot and if approved it would give the school district an additional $9.5 million in pay as you go funds.

Cost to taxpayers

How the school bond will affect the budget has many variables but as part of a five year forecast provided to the City Council Finance Director Peder Schaefer laid out the best and worst case scenarios if the new debt is added.

If the bond is approved the debt services annually will start with $2.9 million in FY 24 and be $15.9 million in FY 27 based on the projections laid out in Schaefer’s forecast.

In the best case scenario the city’s deficit would be $3.1 million in FY 24, $7 million in FY 25, $5.1 in FY 26, and $3.5 million in FY 27 based on projections.

The worst case scenario?

Schaefer projects that the deficit could grow to as much as $50 million in FY 27.

In both the best and worst case scenarios Schaefer bases the projections on the city getting 50 percent in state aid.

For revenue in the best case scenario Schaefer bases his projections on the city’s tax revenue increasing by 3 percent from property taxes and in the worst case he bases it on the revenue going up .75 percent from property taxes.

forums, schools