Town’s elementary school projects still in planning phase

Town’s elementary school projects still in planning phase

North Providence Superintendent of Schools Bridget Morisseau meets with faculty and staff at Greystone Elemetary School to review upcoming updates and hear suggestions. (Breeze photos by Nicole Dotzenrod)

NORTH PROVIDENCE – School officials are on a listening tour as they determine top improvement priorities at three elementary schools that are not being replaced this year.

Officials are reworking project plans for two new elementary schools – Stephen Olney and James L. McGuire – in order to be able to afford improvements to the three existing schools: Greystone, Whelan and Centredale.

Supt. Bridget Morisseau, offering an update on North Providence schools before the School Committee last month, reiterated that all of the public elementary schools in town will be receiving needed attention and upgrades.

Morisseau said there is a “tremendous amount of work to be done over the summer,” at the three existing schools. Officials plan to replace roofs and floors, repaint walls and repair bathrooms, as well as add new desks, chairs and other furniture and fixtures. Of the $75 million bond approved by voters in November 2016, $16 million will be used for improvements and upgrades at the town’s existing schools.

Last Thursday, the superintendent met with faculty and staff of Greystone Elementary School to identify facility issues that need to be addressed, both immediate and long-term. Teachers at Greystone expressed their frustrations with the current building, including poor ventilation, missing bathroom sinks, windows that cannot be opened and lack of flexible space for specialists. The school nurse, Sheri Farrell, said her office is missing ceiling tiles, exposing live wires. She has also had problems with mice in what is supposed to be a sterile environment.

Morisseau said maintaining the town’s aging school facilities is an ongoing task, and told teachers she would take their feedback and do all she can to get them what they need. She also shared options for furniture, fixtures and equipment, which she said can create, “entirely different learning environments for our students.”

“We’re trying to be creative with how we look at our existing schools,” she said.

Across town, the construction sites of Stephen Olney and James L. McGuire Elementary Schools have remained relatively quiet since the two schools were demolished last summer, though the superintendent says new facilities will be constructed on time for the 2019-20 school year.

“I want people to know that when you drive by, it may appear as though nothing is going on, so therefore we must be behind – that’s not the case at all,” Morisseau said. “There’s a tremendous amount of background work that needs to be done now, when the weather isn’t conducive to outdoor work.”

By the suggestion of some Town Council members, the superintendent is working to create banners to display on the construction sites to briefly describe the projects and their timelines. She said she expects general contractor Gilbane Inc. to break ground on the schools “in the near future.”

Officials originally expect the project to be complete next January and for new schools to open in March 2019, but have since chosen not to move students in the middle of the school year. Instead, they expect to move into the new facilities during summer break in 2019, opening for the 2019-2020 academic year. Marieville School will be decommissioned and returned to the town at the last stage of the project in 2019.

In the meantime, students are being taught in swing spaces at the former George C. Calef School in Johnston and the former St. Patrick School in North Providence. The new facilities will house roughly 400 students each.

Mayor Charles Lombardi said simultaneously constructing the two schools is saving taxpayer money, as construction costs can increase up to 5 to 7 percent per year.

Schematic designs for the new facilities are in their final stages, with school officials working with S/L/A/M Architects and the Rhode Island Department of Education to make minor adjustments. The designs reflect Morisseau’s emphasis on inclusivity, as well as the “push-in” model of education, where specialists such as special educators, speech or occupational therapists, work with students in the general education classroom – rather than in a separate setting.

So-called “flex-spaces” will branch off of the main classroom and will be used for specialized services and for small-group collaboration.

“We needed to design our new schools in such a way that students were included and not excluded from their peers,” she said. “For inclusion to be effective, our physical structures need to support those practices.”

She said she hopes the physical spaces promote collaboration between teachers and multiple specialists within the classroom at any given time.

“It’s import for me as a superintendent to clearly articulate my vision for how we deliver services to students in all of our schools,” she said. “I value the importance of teachers collaborating and planning together, and sharing the responsible for the success of all students – not just those in their classroom.”