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February 3, 2022

Warwick Post: Committee Sends $350M Warwick High School Plan to Council

The Warwick Post reports on Saam's high school project in Warwick, RI

  Photo: Warwick Post / Rob Borkowski

WARWICK, RI – The Warwick City Council will soon be voting on the fate of a $350 million project to replace the two Warwick high schools.

The School Committee voted Tuesday to send the projected reimbursement plan for the high school building projects to the City Council. Once the City Council gives their endorsement of the plan, the matter will be referred to the General Assembly. The voters would decide on the bond borrowing to fund the project during the November election.

“I totally support building two new high schools,” said Superintendent Lynn Dambruch. “It will be a positive impact to the community, to students, staff, and research does show that the school facilities does impact student achievement.”

The total cost of construction for replacing Toll Gate and Pilgrim High Schools is $350 million, according to Committee Vice Chairman David Testa, who is also the chairman of the Warwick Public schools Building Committee.

The total cost for Pilgrim is $175 million. The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) will reimburse 43 percent of the cost – $75.4 million. The community share of the cost is $100 million, or 57 percent.

The total cost of Toll Gate is $174.5 million. RIDE will reimburse $75 million, or 43 percent. The community share of the cost is $99.4 million, or 57 percent.

“At the end of the day, the $350 million project is reimbursed to the tune of roughly $150 million,” Testa noted.

Stephen Gothberg, the Director of Buildings and Grounds, said RIDE would provide 50 percent reimbursement if the total cost of rebuilding the two schools was $301 million.

RIDE’s reimbursement is based on a cost of square feet, Testa noted.

“(RIDE) will not give us 50 percent on (a $350 million total),” Gothberg explained. “We have to get the net on the 350 which turns out to be 43 percent. 52.5 percent is our cap right now for reimbursement. We can’t guarantee that we get that extra two and a half at this point.”

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The Stage one submittal to RIDE was in September. Stage two is due on Feb. 15. The initial submittal of the renovation concepts was done last July.

Committee member Karen Bachus said she had “significant concerns” about the project.

“My worry is, are we going to have enough space?,” Bachus asked. “Like I’ve said from the very beginning since 2012: if we build it, they will come. If we build new schools, people will want to be here.”

“My understanding is we are complying with all of RIDE’s regulations. This has not been rushed through,” Testa said. “This has been thoughtful. This has involved all the pertinent stakeholders. I have no second thoughts or reservations about the process.”

“We are not building larger than allowed by RIDE, said Gothberg. “We’re staying within the allowable square footage (half a million square feet for Toll Gate and Pilgrim).”

The committee had retained the services of Saam Architecture of Boston to create a high school master plan for $111,300 in December 2019.

Last May, the committee voted to approve renovations for Pilgrim High and Toll Gate High Schools.

“RIDE’s feedback was immediately given, and negative,” Gothberg said at the Jan. 11 meeting. “RIDE did not agree with renovating of the high schools due to the difficulty in the phasing of construction and the fact that students would be impacted by construction for four years.”

Instead, RIDE suggested “go back to the drawing board and consider building new high schools. This feedback was taken back to leadership of the district and city and the team was given the green light to change direction.