2016-03-24 / Front Page

$10M School Repair Bond Advances

Middletown officials have given a tentative nod to placing a $10 million school facilities bond before voters this November.

“We know exactly what we need to do to bring our buildings up to code, health and safety wise,” said Superintendent Rosemarie Kraeger, speaking at the Mar. 21 Town Council meeting. She added the town is eligible for up to a 39 percent reimbursement from the Rhode Island Department of Education.

Council Chair Robert Sylvia said investment in school facilities is “long overdue.”

In a 7-0 vote, council sent the school repair bond to the General Assembly for approval. Once the language is returned, the clerk will place it on the town docket for a second vote – as a final approval to put the referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot. The School Department gave an OK to the proposal earlier this month.

Town Administrator Shawn Brown said if approved, the bond would not directly impact the local tax rate, assuming a two percent tax increase and no change to services or policies.

“The current proposal is to fund the debt service through a reallocation of pay-as-you-go capital financing and the retirement of other debt on the town’s books,” Brown said after the meeting.

The proposal appears to be a bargain compared with a 2007 plan to spend $122 million for a new high school and remodeling project for Gaudet Middle School. In 2003, voters rejected an $8.4 million bond proposal to build a new elementary school at the former Linden School property.

Last summer, the School Committee awarded Providence architectural firm Robinson Green Beretta (RGB) a $43,000 contract to prepare a facilities analysis, which concluded such major construction is not necessary.

The district’s four schools are all rated as “good condition, some system needs” by the firm. Their plan includes various school projects that range between $250,000 and $1,000,000.

“Middletown school buildings have realized the benefit of a robust facilities program that is able to keep up with many types and levels of preventative maintenance projects in-house,” RGB consultants wrote in their report. “However, due to age, use and environmental exposure, as well as developing guidelines and mandates for accessibility, sustainability and high performance, there are many projects that will need to be undertaken in the coming five years that will require significant funding and support.”

Examples of the projects include major re-roofing and window replacement projects that will not only repair areas beyond their lifespan, but also reduce energy loads and control indoor environmental conditions, according to the report. Other projects include asbestos abatement, heating and air conditioning improvements, lighting upgrades, fire alarm repairs, door replacements and site access.

“The schools aren’t going to get any better, they are going to get worse,” Sylvia said. “This is the most logical, the most taxpayer-friendly solution.”

The town will pay a five percent interest rate on the 20-year bond, according to a memo provided by interim Finance Director March Tanguay. The total cost of borrowing would be around $15,777,360, according to the memo, but Brown said the state reimbursements would drive that number down, because they would be applied directly to the debt. He added he would provide councilors detailed financials.

Councilor Paul Rodrigues asked about future maintenance requirements.

“I don’t have that crystal ball,” Kraeger said. “Anything could happen. But we are very confident in this report.” Brown added the bond will provide the department with a “massive catch-up.”

“When you are able to fix those items, the maintenance department can truly focus on maintenance,” Brown said.

This isn’t the only bond Middletown voters may be asked to consider on Election Day.

During the last budget cycle, council approved a proposed $5 million road repair bond to be sent to the General Assembly. Since then, Councilor Paul Rodrigues proposed an alternative pay-as-you go approach, which he said would avoid borrowing money. His idea triggered robust conversations across several council meetings, but no votes were taken.

Similar to the school bond proposal, once approved by the General Assembly, council will take a second vote to place the road repair bond on the November ballot.

Return to top