Due diligence delays new schools

Shekarchi delivers deadline extension, increased reimbursement

Posted 6/8/23

House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi has breathed new life into building new Toll Gate and Pilgrim High Schools with time and money.

Since voters approved a $350 million bond in November for the …

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Due diligence delays new schools

Shekarchi delivers deadline extension, increased reimbursement


House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi has breathed new life into building new Toll Gate and Pilgrim High Schools with time and money.

Since voters approved a $350 million bond in November for the schools, construction costs and interest rates have soared, rising questions whether the schools can be built for $350 million and prompting the City Council to delay release of the funds. That has the School Department wondering whether it can meet the 5 year deadline to have the buildings completed or lose state reimbursement.  Initially, Steve Gothberg, school director of capital projects and construction, hoped the design phase of the schools would start with the first release of funds in January.

Disruption in supply chains, shortages, inflation and escalating interest rates raised questions. Could the schools be built for the $350 million? What would higher interest rates mean to the annual cost of repaying the bond and to future tax rates? Would the city be better off waiting, although that could mean loss of state reimbursement and patching up the existing schools?

Actions taken last week by the House of Representatives under Shekarchi’s leadership relieves some of the pressure with an extension of deadlines and additional funding. The state’s rate of reimbursement would climb from 52.5 percent to 55 percent for a total of $173 million plus an additional $8.9 million in pay as you go funding (rather than being reimbursed with completion of the project that adds onto the city’s debt carrying costs) for a total of $23.5 million.

Added state funds for Warwick

In an interview Tuesday, Shekarchi pointed out that state budget delivers approximately $750,000 more in school aid through minor adjustments to the funding formula for a total of $45.89 million, an increase of $4.02 million. Increased school funding is a big part of what the state budget delivers for the city but there’s more.

 The city would receive $1.42 million from the new Municipal Roads Grant Program, a matching program that Mayor Frank Picozzi is pleased to have in the ongoing road repaving program plus an additional $43,709 in library aid. Overall, state aid coming to Warwick is increasing from $69.43 million to $74.92 million, an increase of $5.5 million.

Shekarchi said he met with Picozzi and City Council President Steve McAllister on numerous occasions to talk about the budget and plans for new high schools that have been in the spotlight. As for the future of new high schools, Shekarchi lauded the “due diligence” being undertaken to nail down the cost of the projects and understand the impacts on taxpayers.

“I think Warwick is going about it the right way,” he said.

 He did not weigh in on whether the city should build the schools at this time, but with an increase in reimbursements and a 6 month extension on either end of the 5 year completion deadline they have the tools to thoroughly vet the plan.

City Council President Steve McAllister thinks the extension gives the city the breathing room to conduct another cost appraisal without jeopardizing reimbursements.  In response to an RFQ (request for qualifications) two out-of-state firms offered to analyze the school projects and provide updated cost projections. The council was to have considered a committee review of the submissions on Monday, but that was postponed to June 26. Following a selection of a firm, an agreement including a price must be negotiated which puts a completed report at least two months away.

Gothberg fears the delay won’t leave enough time to build the schools, should that be the decision, to build the schools in five years even with an extended deadline.

McAllister doesn’t believe it’s an issue.

“I think we still have time. I still think we’re in front of the pack (other school districts planning new schools).”

“I think it (the study) is the only responsible thing to do,” he said. He is asking the council is set aside $100,000 from its budget for the study.

As for Shekarchi’s role, McAllister said he was relieved the speaker chose not to run for the First Congressional District.

He said he told Shekarchi, “I need you here to work for Warwick and you have.”

Conceptual plans

While architects Saccoccio and Associates gave voters an idea not only of what the buildings could look like from the exterior but also a layout of rooms and such features such as an elevated running track circling the gym, bridges between buildings and an overall campus layout, Gothberg points out the plans were “conceptual, inspirational and aspirational” and that cost estimates were based on the best projections. That’s what the voters saw when architects unfurled plans, looked at renderings and viewed animated walk-throughs of the schools.

In response to two peer reviews of the plans and cost estimates, value engineering reduced the overall size of the schools and eliminated some of the “conceptual” features to keep the project within the budget.  Gothberg is confident of the numbers.

Arriving at this point had not come easily. In response to the system’s aging schools and declining enrollment the administration and committee took steps to consolidate with the closure of selected elementary schools while identifying those needing new roofs, HVAC systems, playgrounds, security systems and a myriad of other improvements. The plan called for the reduction from three to two middle and high schools that was accomplished with the closure of Aldrich and Gorton, both junior high schools, and the repurposing of Veterans High as a middle school.

The idea at the time was to renovate Toll Gate and Pilgrim, a process that required closing sections of the buildings over several years as work was accomplished. Plans were drafted and submitted to the Rhode Island Department of Education that would need to approve the project for the city to gain a 35 percent reimbursement.

RIDE shot down the plan on the eve of the pandemic reasoning renovating the schools would disrupt the educational process and that they were be supportive of building new schools.  The plan shifted to building the schools on the athletic fields of the existing campuses and when completed demolishing the old buildings to build new fields. Through a combination of RIDE incentives the administration gained the commitment for the reimbursement of 52.5 percent based on $314.6 million in construction costs.

In promoting the bond issue, the school administration argued the city would get “two schools for the price of one” and unless it followed what RIDE approved it would lose reimbursements. But the plan didn’t sit well with everyone. Former councilman and member of the school committee, Robert Cushman projected the cost of carrying the debt of the school bonds on top of addressing other failing infrastructures – roads, sewers, water – as well as meeting pension and other post employment costs of municipal employees could force homeowners out. Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur campaigned for voters to reject the $350 million bond.

schools, extension, reimbursement


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  • MikkeyDee

    Warwick Vets still running fine...Pilgrim built 9 years later and Tollgate after that...and now we need to tear down and replace you trust a guy who can't pay his credit cards to lead the way??? CRAZY....these dems are incompetent and out of control...have NO respect for taxpayer money and receiving VALUE....what is the cost to refurb both schools????Anybody know???

    Warwick is a dem hole into which they throw taxpayer money....

    Teachers' union want a new shiny will be lagging in achievement no matter what they is the typical dem disgusting sham

    Saturday, June 10, 2023 Report this