2018-02-08 / Front Page

Tour Reveals Rogers Unsafe

By Brooke Constance White

During the tour of Rogers, Principal Jared Vance points out where water is leaking through the roof in the hallway outside the gymnasium. 
(Photo by Brooke Constance White) During the tour of Rogers, Principal Jared Vance points out where water is leaking through the roof in the hallway outside the gymnasium. (Photo by Brooke Constance White) No longer warm, safe and dry, Rogers High School is not able to operate effectively. The aging infrastructure, outdated mechanical systems and unsafe conditions were highlighted during a public tour of the 160,000-square-foot campus on Feb. 3 as school and city officials joined more than 35 community members to see why the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) has deemed Rogers a “candidate for replacement.”

Based on the RIDE’s State of Rhode Island Schoolhouses report, the immediate renovation need at Rogers, which was built in 1957, is $37.9 million, with a combined need over five years of $51.4 million.

Mayor Harry Winthrop said the facility was worse than he had expected, but still believes officials need to vet every potential option, including renovation, partial renovation and replacement.

“There are some attributes of this campus such as the gymnasium and auditorium, but with that said, the rest of the building isn’t in that good of shape,” Winthrop said. “I think there’s a lot of work ahead of the school committee and city council, and lots of decisions that need to be made about how we should move forward.”

During the tour, Rogers Principal Jared Vance pointed out areas of concern where the maintenance crew focuses most of its efforts, such as rainwater leaking from the roof and rusted pipes in the floor resulting in flooded classrooms.

Kendra Muenter, who has a daughter at Pell Elementary School, said she had not seen inside Rogers before the tour and was appalled by its state.

“I feel sad that we allow our students to learn and teachers to teach in this environment,” Muenter said, adding that she can’t believe Newport has a school facility with failing plumbing, water damage, flooded classrooms and little or no heat. “Renovation makes no sense; a complete tear down and redesign of the building makes the most sense because a new building could grow or shrink based on the population with wings that could be opened or closed off.”

Jeff Watts, plant engineer at Rogers, said he comes in two hours before school begins each day to vacuum up water in flooded classrooms and to investigate other potential problems.

“I walk through the whole school to make sure everything is safe and as dry as it can be, and to check out the overall status of all our systems and infrastructure,” he said.

Watts and Vance pointed out the Junior Reserve Officer's Training Corps (JROTC) space where water on the floor must be vacuumed up every morning. A few classrooms on the main floor of the academic wing are also consistently flooded, they said, and added that anytime it rains or snows, low points in the roof above the hallway outside the gymnasium leak.

“This building is like a sponge,” Vance said. “It just soaks up water, which causes other things to fail even further.”

Because of overcrowding at Newport schools, he said, there are no vacant classrooms where students can be moved when classrooms flood, which can disrupt teachers’ ability to effectively do their jobs.

Several other problems include more than 40 exterior doors that have to be monitored or locked at all times in order to keep the campus safe, asbestos-containing floor tiles in classrooms, and failing mechanical systems that can only be reached through a maze of crawl spaces.

Other deficiencies at Rogers include the inability to properly heat and regulate the temperature throughout the campus, storage areas that have been retrofitted for use as classrooms, and the need for a wider range of class offerings.

Superintendent Colleen Jermain told tour participants that Newport is in desperate need of a dynamic high school facility that adequately prepares students for the 21st-century workplace.

“We need to be a place where kids want to be,” she said. “We want to be a school district where people want to send their kids.”

At the moment, Vance said, the staff and administration are having a difficult time implementing a 21st-century curriculum in a deteriorating facility. He feels that the deficiencies devalue the educational process for both teachers and students.

“It’s alarming that Newport’s students are learning in a building that’s in this bad of shape,” Vance said, adding that he always tries to focus on the positives, but that it’s difficult when discussing an outdated and inadequate facility like Rogers. “Something really needs to be done and quick because our maintenance staff is shoveling against the tide here.”

At its next meeting on Feb. 20, the school committee will vote on who will sit on the facilities subcommittee, which will then move forward with the process of determining next steps for the district’s facilities. The committee will also put out a request for proposals in the next few weeks for an educational planner. Once hired, the planner will lead “visioning sessions” in order to help guide plans for a new high school.

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