2014-07-24 / Around Town

School Committee Seeks Space at JFK

By Jacquelyn Moorehead

Although the newly completed Pell School was built to educate all Newport students from prekindergarten to fourth grade, the Newport School Committee is negotiating a lease for two pre-K classrooms in Middletown.

At its meeting on Wednesday, July 23, the committee discussed potential overcrowding at Pell and the possibility of securing two classrooms at Middletown’s John F. Kennedy School. “We’re projected to be two classrooms short,” committee member Robert J. Leary said.

In its first year of operation, Claiborne Pell Elementary is at capacity for students, which is 890. The total population of the school was 881, including 47 pre-K students at the end of April 2014. With 2013’s pre-K population jumping to 175 kindergarteners in 2014, the committee expects to exceed capacity this year.

While Pell was being built, an additional two classrooms were added, but the Rhode Island Department of Education would not let the school’s size expand beyond 105,000 square feet. “We could only build the school so big; it’s unfortunate, but we need more room,” committee member Robert B. Power said.

Each of Pell’s classrooms is allowed 25 students per teacher. That number was exceeded in one kindergarten classroom, which resulted in two teachers being assigned to one classroom of 28 or 29 students, Leary said.

The committee looked at the Triplett School, which they considered to be the only other option besides JFK. Leary said Triplett suffered from a leaking roof and extensive mold and was “disgusting.” He added, “It’s way past renovation.”

Superintendent Colleen Jermain, in a preliminary look at the cost of creating an early learning center, estimated that renovations at Triplett would cost the district around $670,000. Leary stated that Middletown offered the rooms at JFK for $5,000 per month initially, but he believes that the final price will be $7,500.

“This will be a new adventure for all of us as we begin to build our capacity to partner with other agencies and districts to build a comprehensive early learning program for our students,” Jermain said.

The plan is to start an early learning center in coordination with the East Bay Community Action Program’s Head start, which helps at-risk children from six months to three years of age. The committee hopes the partnership will offset costs. Jermain stressed that the lease is still in negotiations, with nothing finalized.

“I want to see the enrollment numbers. If I hear the numbers are way down in kindergarten this year, then we won’t need the extra rooms,” Leary stated.

JFK is just over a mile away from Pell, or a half-mile farther than the distance from Pell to Triplett. Still, Power said the cost of transporting students to JFK would be less than renovating Triplett.

Triplett houses the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission and held one classroom that was displaced during the construction of Pell. Leary said the mold was so overwhelming the class had to move to a common area.

JKF is being used as meeting space for Aquidneck Island Adult Education and the Middletown Robotics Team. The Middletown School Department has continued maintenance on JFK after it closed at the end of the 2008-2009 school year. In other business:

. The 2014-2015 school budget of $35,772,965 was approved. Committee Chair Charles P. Shoemaker said the deadline to finalize the budget imposed by City Council had run out and a decision needed to be made. Power abstained from voting. Shoemaker and committee members Joe Eva Gaines and Sandra J. Flowers voted in favor, while Leary and Thomas S. Phelan opposed. Rebecca Bolan was not in attendance.

. The committee voted unanimously to approve an additional $5,829 to Bacon Construction Co. to change three urinals to toilets. The new total for construction in the Pell School project, to be completed by the end of the summer, is $28,285.

. AT&T’s proposal for leasing the cell tower at Rogers High School was passed. The third port on the tower will be rented for $29,000 per year, with a three percent annual escalation. There are currently two other carriers leasing space on the tower. Power said, “The windmill tower was originally put in place to save money; now it’s a money generator.”

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