Task force: condition of public school buildings in RI in 'crisis'

Corroded windows at East Providence High School is just one example of the 50,500 deficiencies found in Rhode Island's schools. (WJAR)

Rhode Island's aging school buildings are in disrepair and it's going to take several steps and nearly $2.2 billion to bring the failing schools to a level on par with other states, a consultant told a room of state and local officials on Friday.

The Rhode Island School Building Taskforce was told that 50,500 deficiencies were found in the state's schools, more than half of which were built between the 1930s and 1970s.

Corroded steel windows at East Providence High School, mold on slate shingle roofing at Peace Dale Elementary School, outdated fire alarm systems at Toll Gate High School, rusted condensing units at John F. Deering Middle School, those are just some of the examples of what needs to be corrected in order to make schools dry, warm and safe - the task force's first priority.

"The condition of our public school buildings in Rhode Island is a crisis," Treasurer Seth Magaziner told NBC 10 News. "We need to do something about it. The longer we wait, the worse the problem is going to get."

Rhode Island Department of Education Commissioner Ken Wagner told the group that there's a correlation between the state of a school and a students' morale and ability to learn. Wagner and the rest of the task force agreed that it has a long list of things to do to get schools from a failing grade to an acceptable level.

That goal will take time, money and a lot of prioritizing, according to members of the newly formed taskforce, which includes Wagner, the state's treasuer, local superintendents and representation from the National Education Association.

High schools have the most priority one needs (building safety, code compliance and severely damaged or failing buildings) and that will cost the state $22 million. Elementary schools had the most priority two need (inadequate roofing and window replacements), which will cost $232 million.

The highest cost districts are Providence with $372 million, Warwick with $190 million and Pawtucket with $176 million, according to the engineering firm. Cranston, East Providence and Woonsocket are the next three highest cost districts.

"If we do nothing new and maintain the status quo, that price tag will only go up -- the cost of fixing all the schools will almost double," Magaziner said. "The longer we wait to pull of the Band-Aid and do something real to fix our school buildings, the tougher and more expensive the fix is going to get."

The task force will meet several more times throughout the year and the goal is to have a plan ready to present to the legislature in December.

One of the most important questions it’s faced with is how to pay for the millions, or even billions of dollars needed for repairs and construction.

“We’re probably going to have to bond it. Use a bond, if you’re going to build a 20 or 30 year building, then back it with a 20 or 30 year bond, pay it over time, because you’re going to get use out of that facility over time," Bob Walsh, who is the executive director of the NEARI, which is the state’s largest teachers’ union, said on 10 News Conference.

He added a caveat that points to one reason the schools are in such bad condition now.

“But also don’t neglect maintenance," Walsh said.

Members of the Task Force include the following individuals:

  • General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, co-chair
  • Education Commissioner Ken Wagner, co-chair
  • Hon. Hanna M. Gallo, Senator, District 27, Cranston, on behalf of the Senate
  • Andy Nota, Jamestown Town Administrator on behalf of the League of Cities and Towns
  • Barry Ricci, Chariho Superintendent, on behalf of the RI Superintendent's Association
  • Kinzel Thomas, Providence School Board, on behalf of the RI Association of School Committees
  • Larry Purtill, President, National Education Association of Rhode Island and Member, Council of Elementary and Secondary Education
  • Frank Flynn, President, Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals
  • Michael Sabitoni, President, RI Building and Construction Trades Council; Business Manager, Laborers Local 271
  • Joseph Dewhirst, Chairman, Rhode Island Health and Educational Building Corporation
  • Michael DiBiase, Director of Administration; School Building Authority Advisory Board
  • Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT
  • Dr. Patricia Flanagan, Pediatrician-in-Chief at Hasbro Children's Hospital and professor of pediatrics at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University
  • Neil Steinberg, President and CEO, Rhode Island Foundation
  • John Hazen White, Jr., Chairman and Owner, Taco Comfort Solutions

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