School board starts the ball rolling on athletic complex improvements

School board starts the ball rolling on athletic complex improvements

Concerns postpone vote on busing contract

SMITHFIELD – The School Committee has approved Birchwood Design Group to develop a cost estimate and project options plan for renovations at Smithfield High School’s track and football field.

Supt. Judith Paolucci said, at this point, the biggest focus for the Athletic Facilities Committee, which works on athletic fields, is the high school track area. Eventually, the committee will make maintenance and renovation plans for all district athletic facilities.

Birchwood Design’s bid to do cost analysis and design work for the track was the least expensive at $4,250, Paolucci said.

She said the track needs replacement within a few years, and the committee received estimates for replacing the track separately from the field. Paolucci said replacing just the track, only to find it needs to be removed to renovate the field, would be working “haphazardly.”

Birchwood Design will look at the scope of the project, to see if the track should be replaced independently from the football field.

“What I hate more than spending money is spending money foolishly,” she said.

Committee member Virginia Harnois questioned the timing of a potential project and said asking for more funding at the same time as an expensive elementary school reconfiguration is a concern.

“We’re also getting ready to ask for funding for our reconfiguration. I just think it’s poor timing, not that I don’t think all of this work shouldn’t be done,” she added, “I’m just concerned about the cost and the timing.”

Paolucci said she talked about a 10-year plan for replacing the track and field when she first put the Athletic Facilities Committee together, leading to criticism. Planning work may take a few years, she said, but expert advice is needed in order to devise a good plan.

Also on Monday, the school board heard a request for a two-year extension contract for Durham School Services, the transportation and bus provider for the school district. The committee decided to postpone a decision as they wait for more information from Durham.

The proposed contract has a 2.57 percent rate increase while extending the maximum age of buses to 12 years each with the understanding that any vehicle needing significant repairs or replacement would be done by Durham, Paolucci said.

The previous maximum age was 10 years, or 150,000 miles. Seventeen buses would age out under those terms, causing an 8 percent rate increase to pay for the new buses.

“It would be a significant cost and that’s why initial proposals to us had a very high percent increase,” Paolucci said.

Wanting further discussion, committee member Rose Marie Cipriano said she had safety concerns raised by the contract’s extended maximum fleet life by two years and lack of a mileage limit.

“The safety of our children in transporting is really paramount to me,” Cipriano said. “That’s a significant point. I’m having difficulty with that and it makes me question if we should go out to bid.”

Paolucci said the council’s choice was to either accept the proposal, which she recommended, or got out to bid. Paolucci said should the committee decide to seek bids, it should be done in a timely manner.

“If the majority of the committee is interested in keeping those buses at a max of 10 years, it would make more sense at this point to go out to bid,” Chairman Sean Clough said.

Cipriano said when signing the previous contract, she was surprised that many of the buses were older, but agreed to the deal with the understanding that the age limit would mean replacing the vehicles.

“I think there needs to be more dialogue with this particular company,” Cipriano said.

In other business, Paolucci said the Stage II application to the Rhode Island Department of Education for the Elementary Reconfiguration Project was submitted on time. She said the next step would be months of back and forth answering questions for RIDE.

“I am going to keep a copy at the central office so that anyone in the public who would like to come and look through the documents can do it there,” she said, adding there is also an electronic version available as well.

Comments

Happy to see something finally being done regarding the conditions of the high school athletic complex. Field conditions and the deterioration of the track have long been a hazard. The press box is a safety hazard, no outside bathrooms and the concession stand is on its last leg. I just hope it does not take years to do as mentioned. It should be a top priority as other high schools in the area have state-of-the-art facilities. It’s not fair to our kids. Sports and the fields they play them on are just as important in a child’s high school experience as is the classrooms and books.