2019-01-17 / Front Page

City Leaders Meet, Talk about a New High School

By Andy Long

The School Committee and Superintendent Colleen Jermain briefed the City Council on plans to build a new high school and find space for Pre-K and kindergarten classes at a workshop on Jan. 10.

A community summit, which is expected to include school administrators, city officials, parents, students, staff, industry partners, community groups and interested constituents, is scheduled for April 27 to begin the process of addressing Rogers High. Rogers has been ranked by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) as having “the worst [building] in the state.”

In addition, Pell Elementary School is beset by overcrowding. Therefore, a separate early learning center for Pre-K and kindergarten classes would open spaces intended for music and art, which are currently being used as classrooms.

Three Pre-K classes are now being held in a space leased from the Middletown School District, an arrangement that will end with the expiration of the lease in June 2020. The district also needs more space for administrative offices.

The final step towards building a new high school would be a vote on a bond issue on the November 2020 ballot. The School Department must submit a letter of intent to apply for bond proceeds by July 1.

Finding solutions have already started, but the planning process is expected to accelerate in 2019.

The School Committee and district officials will be assisted by consultants from Studio JAED, a Providence company that helps private and public entities conceptualize, design and fund new facilities.

A series of events and workshops will be held to solicit public input, Jermain said. The City Council will be consulted throughout the process.

One of the first steps will be to compile a roster of community leaders, ranging from clergy, neighborhood organizations, business owners, city officials, and others to serve on advisory boards.

Jermain hopes that options for space for the early learners could be finalized by early March, so that “We can have a clear space for April, so that we can focus on what most of the community have been reading about, Rogers High School.”

At the same time, JAED consul tants will prepare an analysis on the current state of the entire school district, centering on how its educational programs and facilities currently serve Newport’s students.

The district faces two deadlines for submissions to RIDE. In stage one, the city must present the district analysis, demographic projections for future enrollments, and plans for requesting financial assistance from the state by Sept. 15. The second stage requires that plans for any new facilities and educational programs be submitted by February 2020. The City Council must sign off on this proposal to the state.

One important element for the future facilities will be the Educational Master Plan for the new facilities. “We’re looking at the present and going forward…what are your visions and goals?” Jermain said.

The design of the new high school will be based on new approaches to learning, Jermain said. Currently, Newport students complete internships at local businesses and take classes at CCRI.

Councilor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano questioned the cost of the project. “When you’re making presentations and we’re talking about all these different buildings, people will want to know how much,” she said.

City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr. said that cost estimates won’t be available until February 2020. However, School Committee member Louisa Boatwright said that there will be a range of cost projections in September based on estimated square footages.

“We don’t know. We honestly don’t know [about the cost],” School Committee Chair Raymond Gomes said. “The demographer’s numbers are important. They may project 300 less kids in five years, which will make a big difference. They may say there will be 800 more kids in five years. It’s all in the process.”

Until the district completes a full review of future needs, there can’t be any proper cost projections, Gomes said.

Several councilors suggested that Newport approach Middletown to see if it might be possible to build a regional high school, which would spread the cost over both communities and result in a greater percentage of state financial assistance. Jermain and the school committee said they were open to the idea, but Middletown has not been receptive to similar approaches in the past.

In support, Gomes said that such projects get greater financial assistance from the state.

“It wouldn’t bother me one bit if RIDE came down and said we’re not going to let you build a new high school unless it’s a regional high school,” Councilor Justin McLaughlin said.

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