RIHEBC closes on $85 million bond to finance Johnston school upgrades


With an $85 million bond in hand, Johnston’s massive school renovation and new construction project will likely begin by spring.

“We are pleased that the $85 million bond issue was approved,” said Johnston Schools Superintendent Dr. Bernard DiLullo Jr. “Thank you to the voters, Mayor Polisena, the Johnston School Committee, Johnston Town Council and our town finance department for ushering the bond through.”

On Sept. 29, the Rhode Island Health and Educational Building Corporation (RIHEBC) closed on an $85 million bond issue for the town of Johnston, funding district-wide school facility improvements, according to the state agency.

The bond will cover Phase 1 of Johnston’s school capital improvement plan.

“RIHEBC is pleased to provide the Town of Johnston with bond financing for district-wide school facility repairs and upgrades,” said Kim Mooers, Executive Director of RIHEBC. “This $85 million bond issue was sold to investors at a premium of $8.5 million, generating a total of $93.5 million to pay for Phase 1 of Johnston’s school facility improvement plan. The 30-year bond has an all-in cost to borrow of 4.63 percent.”

Since 2006, RIHEBC has provided more than $2 billion in bond financing for public school facilities projects across Rhode Island, according to the agency. For more than 50 years, RIHEBC — the largest financing agency of the state — has provided more than $10 billion in tax exempt bonds to finance non-profit health and educational institutions in the state, and school projects in Ocean State municipalities.

“The architects are currently working on the Phase III submission which substantially moves the design ideas forward,” DiLullo said of Johnston’s planned facilities upgrade. “They are proceeding with design adjustments as the building industry continues to be in a variable state.”

Voters overwhelmingly approved the $215 million school bond issue in early April.

With a Tax Stabilization Agreement now in place with Amazon, the town is expecting millions more in annual tax revenue over the next 20 years. School officials have argued the time is right for a series of new school building projects. High state reimbursements for school building projects are also serving as a key motivator. School officials hope the state may cover close to half of the anticipated total $215 million price tag.

The district hopes to build a new Early Childhood Center, a new Elementary School for all students in grades 1-4, and make major renovations at the Nicholas A. Ferri Middle School and Johnston High School.

The new Johnston Early Childhood Center (ECC) may be built on the current site of the Sarah E. Barnes Elementary School, for approximately 359 pre-K through Kindergarten students.

The new ECC will cost an estimated $28,600,000, and is tentatively slated to open in the summer of 2024.

The school building proposal calls for closing, and then demolishing or selling the town’s current elementary schools.

If approved, the Barnes Elementary School will be demolished to build the new Early Childhood Center.

The Graniteville ECC Annex, Brown Avenue, Thornton and Winsor Hill elementary schools will all be vacated, and could eventually be sold by the town, or torn down.

The large consolidated, new elementary school will be built to educate 1,100 students in grades 1-4. The proposal calls for building the new Johnston Elementary School on town property just north of the Johnston High School.

The elementary school will cost an estimated $84,350,000, and is tentatively scheduled to open in late summer 2024.

The district will likely tackle the new ECC and elementary school first, and then move on to the high school renovation, and lastly, the middle school project, DiLullo said last year.

The SLAM Collaborative, the firm hired by the school district, has proposed more than $39 million in renovations to the Ferri Middle School and a $57 million facelift at the high school.

Planners hope to unveil the new middle school in late summer of 2025, and the modernized high school in late summer of 2024.

The middle school will be built to accommodate 1,066 students in grades 5-8. The high school will cover approximately 799 students in grades 9-12. The plans call for new heating, air conditioning, ventilation, science labs and more at both schools.

Last year, DiLullo said the current early childhood center, attached to the middle school, will eventually become a fifth grade academy, for the district’s transitional-age students.

“The next step is obtaining permits for the sites and the building with the target of late spring to begin construction on the new building,” DiLullo said on Tuesday.


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