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      Back to school: Aging infrastructure impacts education

      Last year, a ceiling collapse temporarily closed the Potter Burns Elementary School in Pawtucket.

      The last time Pawtucket schools were inspected was 2009.

      Regardless of leaky roofs and conditions considered hazardous to students, each building was deemed structurally sound. Children returned to the 95-year-old Potter Burns school Tuesday.

      In Richmond, there's a similar story.

      Elementary school students won't have a gym for the school year, and the ceiling is collapsing there too. Physical education will be held outside.

      "It goes to show you that deferred maintenance on these schools is starting to really hit home," said Michael Sabitoni, president of the Rhode Island Building Construction and Trades Council.

      SabItoni represents a construction laborers union he says the infrastructure issue isn't just a safety concern it could have more negative economic impacts in the future.

      "The longer we wait, the price keeps going up. The buildings get in worse and worse shape and cost more money to fix," he said.

      Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist is aware of the problem.

      She said the state just doesn't have the money to fix all the buildings.

      The General Assembly voted this summer to extend a construction moratorium on school repairs. The moratorium started three years ago.

      The Education Department studied the issue this year.

      Its report shows each school was rated on a scale of 1 to 4, with 1 being in good condition and 4 being poor and hindering teachers' ability to educate their students.

      In the report, 14 schools were given a rating of 4. The average score was 2.05.

      According to the report, it would cost $1.79 billion to bring all the school buildings in Rhode Island to good condition.

      Read the report (pdf)