Vote on new high schools set for June 6

Posted 5/25/22


With final approval by the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education to move forward with building two new Warwick high schools, the Warwick School Department is three steps away …

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Vote on new high schools set for June 6



With final approval by the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education to move forward with building two new Warwick high schools, the Warwick School Department is three steps away from having new high schools for the first time in about 50 years.

On June 6 Council the City Council will vote to ask permission from the General Assembly to put a $350 million bond issue on the ballot in November. If a majority of the Council agrees the question will then go to Smith Hill before it goes to the ballot box in November for voters to decide.

Price tag

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

As part of the process the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education approves the amount that RIDE will base reimburses The Council approved the reimbursable amount based on approximately $314.5 million. The school district originally thought RIDE would approve a reimbursable amount of $300 million.

Gothberg said that currently the maximum 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.

There are also some unknowns that would allow the city to bond for less, including another possible 2.5 percent in reimbursements from RIDE.

“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,” said Gothberg. “ 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 1/2  percent  we would only gain the 2 1/2 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.

Is $350 million enough?

On April 19 Mayor Frank Picozzi questioned putting the bond measure on the ballot saying that he is concerned with cost. He said with supply chain issues and inflation he isn’t sure that $350 million is going to be enough for the schools.

“We don’t even know if that is realistic until we start building,” said Picozzi.

Picozzi also said that he is concerned that there has been a mixed reaction from people he has spoken to about it and is concerned that it might not pass.

“You might risk it not passing this year. There are a lot of people out there who don’t have kids in school,” said Picozzi. “I couldn’t tell you one way or another and I’m really in touch with people. I could see it going either way.

Under the guidelines right now school districts have five years from the time their application is approved by the Rhode Island Department of Education  to complete the project in order to receive reimbursements from the state.

In the case for Warwick, if the application is approved in May the district would have five years starting Dec. 31 to complete the project.

In April Gothberg  said that if the project is delayed then he doesn’t think there is enough time to complete it. He said that it takes about a year for the final design to be completed, about two years to build new schools, six months to tear the old school downs and the rest of the time would be allocated to building new athletic fields and other site improvements needed that can’t be done until the old schools are torn down.

Gothberg said that any delays could be “catastrophic.”

“In my opinion it would essentially shut it down,” said Gothberg.

Gothberg also said that he doesn’t know if the costs would go down if they delayed the project.

“I don’t see things getting better,” said Gothberg.

Cost for taxpayers

During the March hearing when the Council endorsed the School Department’s application Warwick’s Finance Director Peder Schaefer laid out the projected tax impact the project would result in.

“This would result in annual net debt service to the city over 20 years (after state reimbursement or pay as you go funding) of $19.5 million per year,” said Schaefer.

In the report, Schaefer outlined what it would mean for the taxpayers.

He said that the current annual property tax levy of the city is $235 million. It means that a $13.1 million annual net debt service price tag would equal around 5.5% of the existing tax levy, and a $19.5 million price tag would equal  8.3%.

“While tax rates will change after the next revaluation, at the current rates this would equate to a tax rate increase from $1.03 per thousand to $1.55 per thousand in the residential rate,” said Schaefer. “On a home currently assessed at $300,000, this would be a tax increase of from $330 to $490 a year. This assumes that there would be no operating cost savings from the new high schools or other economies by the City. It also does not include the debt service for on-going projects.”

Schaefer said that his office and the School District Finance Office are still working to crunch the numbers for what the new impact will be on taxpayers with the rising interest rates.

During Tuesday’s budget hearing Schaefer noted that the last of the $40 million school bond was issued in February at a 2.4 percent interest rate. He said that right now advisors are saying that it would be close to 4 percent.

“That's a big change,” said Schaefer.

Schaefer said that the numbers may be worse now.

“I thought the numbers were pretty scary way back then,” said Schaefer.

Format of the meeting

Asked if Council rules will be suspended to eliminate the time limit on public comments during the meeting Council President Steve McAllister said in a text message Monday morning “The Warwick City Council is one of the most open and transparent public bodies.  Everyone gets the exact same opportunity to speak on any issue before the council.”

“ We want to ensure we can hear from everyone who would like to speak on any issue on the agenda.   Council members; members of the public attending their 100th meeting, or their first meeting all get equal time,” said McAllister. “The Warwick City Council provides more time for the public to speak on any agenda item than the general assembly, other RI city and town councils and Congress. The members of the Warwick City Council have always been available to meet with and discuss any concerns citizens may have concerning the budget, the school department’s application or any item coming before the council.”

McAllister said on Monday that only a simple majority is required. Since it is a resolution it will not need  a second reading.

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  • ThatGuyInRI

    Wow, crickets on this article, I'm surprised.

    The particulars on the cost to build and cost to taxpayers are convoluted and hard to follow.

    What isn't hard to follow is that Pilgrim and Toll Gate are 60+ and 50+ years old respectively and it's likely cheaper to level and rebuild them than retrofit them to modern needs.

    Wednesday, June 1 Report this