PROVIDENCE, R.I. - School buildings in every district in the state get a failing grade in Rhode Island's first-ever statewide, independent study of public school facilities.
The R.I. Department of Education (RIDE)'s 2017 State of Rhode Island Schoolhouses report, a year-long assessment commissioned by the School Building Authority (SBA) and completed by Jacobs Engineering, forecasts $627.5 million in high-priority construction and repairs needed to keep students and teachers warm, safe and dry in their classrooms. The statewide cost to bring all school buildings into ideal condition is estimated at $2.2 billion.
"Every generation of Rhode Islanders has worked hard and made sacrifices so the next generation has more opportunity than the one before. But most of our classrooms and school buildings haven't been improved in 25 years," Governor Gina M. Raimondo said. "We must make a once-in-a-generation investment in our school buildings to address immediate health and safety needs in every district, and to give our children the 21st century classrooms they need to compete in the world today."
At a press conference at the Bristol-Warren district's Kickemuit Middle School attended by Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Ken Wagner, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and dozens of state and local school officials, community leaders and elected officials, Raimondo signed an executive order creating the Rhode Island Schools Task Force. The group will consider district feedback and public input to develop an action plan that includes potential funding streams and recommendations on how to effectively maximize resources. The task force will report its recommendations to the Governor by December 2017.
Raimondo also said she will hold a series of community forums in October to solicit feedback from parents, students, teachers and school administrators before including a comprehensive school infrastructure plan in her proposed FY19 budget.
"This is a call to action, and it is our hope that this data-based approach will empower communities to thoughtfully prioritize their needs and make smart investments, accordingly," said Commissioner Wagner. "RIDE will continue to support districts in their efforts to modernize and improve school infrastructure, with a renewed emphasis on projects that have emerged as most urgently needed for the safety, well-being, and success of our students."
The task force, which is co-chaired by Treasurer Magaziner and Commissioner Wagner, includes the following members:
* DOA Director Michael DiBiase, School Building Authority Advisory Board * Senator Hanna Gallo (Cranston, West Warwick) on behalf of the Senate * Jamestown Town Administrator Andy Nota, on behalf of the League of Cities and Towns * Joseph Dewhirst, Chairman, Rhode Island Health and Educational Building Corporation * Michael Sabitoni, President, RI Building and Construction Trades Council and Business Manager, Laborers Local 271 * Frank Flynn, President, Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals * Larry Purtill, President, National Education Association of Rhode Island and Member, Council of Elementary and Secondary Education * Kinzel Thomas, Providence School Board, on behalf of the RI Association of School Committees * Barry Ricci, Chariho Superintendent, on behalf of the RI Superintendent's Association * Patricia Flanagan, M.D., Pediatrician-in-Chief at Hasbro Children's Hospital and professor of pediatrics at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University * Neil Steinberg, Rhode Island Foundation President * John Hazen White, Jr., Chairman and Owner, Taco Comfort Solutions * Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT
"Our public schools are the foundation of economic opportunity and Rhode Islanders have had to settle for antiquated and inadequate schools for too long," Treasurer Magaziner said. "We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get smarter about how we plan and finance school construction at the State and local levels. I look forward to bringing together stakeholders from throughout the Ocean State to develop a plan that puts Rhode Islanders to work building the schools that will allow our next generations to compete and succeed."
The state Senate's appointee to the School Building Task Force, Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Hanna M. Gallo, said, "Children can't reach their potential in cold classrooms or under leaky roofs. The way schools are designed and constructed is important, and the way we fund school construction aid needs to reflect the priority we place on quality learning environments. Improving the physical state of our schools continues to be a priority for the Senate, and we are grateful that Governor Raimondo recognizes the critical importance these investments have on the future of our state's economy."
The Jacobs study began in January 2016 and involved the on-site assessment of 306 school campuses, accounting for more than 24 million square feet, by teams of architects, engineers, and specialists. These assessment teams evaluated everything from roofs and HVAC systems to technology and acoustics, identifying deficiencies and creating a five-year lifecycle forecast for each facility. Potential energy cost savings were also identified, amounting to $33.6 million annually across the state.
The report breaks down five levels of priority costs, ranging from mission critical to aesthetic enhancements. The $627.5 million safe, warm, and dry standard represents priorities 1 and 2 from the total facility deficiencies. Of that figure, $54.5 million in deficiencies are considered "priority 1," or "mission critical concerns," such as building safety or code compliance.
"This marks the end of the study but just the beginning of a conversation on how we can better protect and maximize school facilities across the state, because investing in our schools and our students cannot wait," said Barbara S. Cottam, Chair of the Board of Education. "With this clear understanding of the state of our school facilities, all stakeholders - from the schoolhouse to the State House - are better positioned to move forward, together, and improve conditions for all kids."
In addition to the assessment report and the recommended action plan delivered by Jacobs, the public has full access to the data, broken down by district and individual schools. An interactive map available on RIDE's website enables Rhode Islanders to compare districts and review findings for their local schools.