Metro, News

Providence begins to tackle school facilities improvement at city level

April education summit sparked interest in quality of public school buildings, further funding

Staff Writer
Friday, October 13, 2017

Providence kicked off its initiative to renovate public school facilities with the first “All In: Our Learning Spaces” workshop held at Hope High School on Tuesday.

The workshop asked members of the Providence community to provide feedback on the existing state of public schools in the city and suggest improvements. The city followed up with a similar workshop Thursday.

“This is an opportunity for us to have a conversation on what we want our schools and education to look like in the future,” said Mayor Jorge Elorza.

Some Providence schools have leaky roofs, hot classrooms and peeling paint, said Erica Lambert, a parent of a student at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary who attended the workshop. “This sends a message to our kids that they’re not important,” she said.

Charisma Sampson, a senior at Hope High School, said she hopes the workshops and the greater ‘All In’ effort will help improve school facilities and give the city’s students a better learning atmosphere. “I don’t want to be nervous walking down the hallway and thinking that the ceiling might fall through,” she said.

Elorza first announced the city-wide effort to repair school buildings and facilities in August, and Tuesday’s workshop marked the first phase of a yearlong process, which would plan that effort, to support it.

The second phase of this process will begin Oct. 17, when a design team will summarize the information gathered in workshop sessions and present their recommendations to Elorza and superintendent of Providence Public Schools Christopher Maher, who will decide next steps, said Lily Gutterman, deputy director of policy for the mayor’s office.

Phase 3 will roll out in December, at which point the city will present its recommendations to the Providence community for its opinions and approval, Gutterman said.

To execute its plans, the city will need to borrow. A fiscal analysis showed that Providence has the capacity to borrow up to $400 million over the next decade, said Victor Morente, a spokesperson for Elorza, in an email to The Herald. The city plans to borrow anywhere between $200 and $400 million, the Providence Journal reported.

While Providence will not begin borrowing money until the renovation plan is fully developed, Morente spoke of multiple borrowing options open to the city once it enters that stage, including a bond referendum. Elorza is also committed to exploring and leveraging public and private partnerships “to maximize every dollar invested in schools,” Morente added in an email to The Herald.

While Elorza is leading this city-wide initiative, Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo is also addressing the problem of sub-par school facilities. Every Rhode Island school facility failed state evaluation, according to a report from the state Department of Education. Raimondo signed an executive order in September in response to the report, creating a new commission that would develop solutions and steps to better school facilities across the state.

While the Governor’s office was not in communication with the Mayor’s office before it launched the executive order, going forward, these two initiatives will require collaboration between the state and city offices, Morente said.

Providence first uncovered the issue of dilapidated school facilities in April, at the “All In: Providence Education Summit,” which aimed to build and support a cohesive vision for education in Providence, Gutterman said.

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