By EMMA BARTLETT
In the fall of 2020, Cranston voters approved a $147 million bond for Cranston Public Schools’ five year strategic plan to renovate and update the district’s aging …
By EMMA BARTLETT
In the fall of 2020, Cranston voters approved a $147 million bond for Cranston Public Schools’ five year strategic plan to renovate and update the district’s aging schools transforming them into 21st century learning environments. On June 6, Edward Collins, Chief of Facilities Management and Capital Projects for Cranston Public Schools, updated the School Committee on the current projects.
Collins said after students are done with school, Cranston East’s roof over the gym foyer will be worked on, Cranston West will receive an upgrade to its front entry, sprinkler system, gym stairs and electrical work, Eden Park’s cafeteria and gym will be worked on and the district will soon go out to bid for the replacement of Western Hills’ school HVAC system.
Collins said the $50 million that the city went out to bond in the first draw will pay for the full Garden City project, phase two of Eden Park Elementary (half the building has already been completed), phase one of Cranston West, the Cranston East roof and the remaining $1.4 million of the funds has been approved for the design of Gladstone Elementary School.
The city requested the draw schedule from CPS because there was a discussion of when the district needed more money – to which Collins said “it is now.” While projects are moving forward, Collins is still looking for the go-ahead on Gladstone which is intended to start in one year.
The district has $1.46 million approved for Gladstone for early schematic design, however, it needs another draw to complete the project – Collins said the full design cost for the school will be $7 million. The design process – in the best case – takes 10 to 12 months and includes three phases: schematic design (which is more conceptual), design development (which is more detailed) and construction documents (which is what the district purchases); Collins said the district receives three large sets of drawings that are each about 500 pages. Additionally, the projects are taking more time since the district has been including teachers and students in helping design the space, so the space suits what students need/want in their learning space and avoids the cookie cutter school building.
“We’re at the point right now where it’s either in or out. I can’t hold the project up or anything. We really need to move with that,” Collins said.
Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse said the city’s next draw will be in the late summer/early fall and they are assessing the debt that would be incurred to the city.
She said there is $96 million outstanding against the bond that the district should receive. There is $50 million from the first draw and – in the next two years – CPS would call for another $46.3 million each time.
Collins said there is also a small disagreement between the district and the city in terms of RIDE’s PayGo (pay-as-you-go) program. He said while voters approved a $147 million bond, there are some people in the city who think it’s $147 million minus $16 million from PayGo.
“I don’t agree with that. PayGo’s not a grant, so it shouldn’t be deducted from the overall bond,” Collins said. “PayGo is a reimbursement program that’s done by RIDE.”
He said unless it was put in the state legislation that the bond that the city will get will be $147 million minus the $16 million, then the district should be able to use that money.
Nota-Masse said there are various interpretations to PayGo.
She said the district needs a definite answer and said hypothetically if the city’s answer was no, then the district would need to stop what they’re doing because they’d be spending money for a building that would potentially not be built.
School Committee member Domenic Fusco Jr. said the treasury is looking to increase interest rates again and, if the city delays, the debt surface would be higher.
Nota-Masse said this has happened in the past when developing science labs within three middle schools that were part of a $13 to $14 million bond; the economy hit the skids, the city didn’t sell the bonds and the work was not completed until 10 year years later. By the time the district could use the funds, they could only afford to do one school.
“Unfortunately, this has happened – so we kind of see the writing on the walls,” Nota-Masse said.
CPS Chief Financial Officer Joe Balducci said this situation causes another issue. RIDE doesn’t want local school districts to not handle their own repairs and put the onerous on the state and increase their housing aid line item that is given to municipalities. Balducci said there are several ways to get to this number – either through a percentage of budget or square footage. He said the cheapest way for CPS to get to RIDE’s required number is to take three percent of the district’s budget.
He said three percent of the school’s budget isn’t enough so to meet the requirement, he incorporates expenditures that come out of the capital reserve and the city’s bonded projects. He said if nothing is spent on the city’s side, he’s not going to satisfy RIDE’s requirements. He said the housing aid will not be given to the city and put in a holding fund until the city can prove it met the requirement.
“This could happen to Cranston a year or two down the road if spending doesn’t happen at the bonding level,” said Balducci.
Collins added that if the district does not achieve over 50 percent of its five year plan, then the district can’t go back.
“All I know is the time is now. So it’s either time to go or not to go and shut it down because we’re never going to make any deadlines pushing this down the road anymore,” Collins said.
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