Newport This Week

Dreams for State-of-the-Art Schools

After tours of several stateof the-art schools, Middletown school officials are now imagining social work spaces (instead of mere hallways), merged libraries, larger classrooms, and even indoor running tracks that would transform new schools into potential community buildings.

Officials shared those dreams at the March 29 School Building Committee meeting following recent tours of Massachusetts middle and high schools in Westport, Saugus and Weymouth. It was especially useful, they said, to see the Saugus schools, which were designed by the architectural team hired by Middletown.

“That was so amazing to walk through those corridors and see what 21st century learning looks like,” said School Committee Chair Theresa Spengler.

There were students with new laptops in comfortable surroundings, she said. “They said, ‘We like to come to school,’” Spengler said. “It was so great to see them so happy [to learn].”

As a result, attendance has increased in Saugus. In East Providence, student enrollment increased by 100 students after the city built a new high school, Middletown Supt. Rosemarie Kraeger said.

“This isn’t about just bricks and mortar,” said Spengler. “Students told us, ‘Our old school was terrible.’”

This commentary came during an 80-minute presentation by Manuel Cordeiro, formerly of the Rhode Island Department of Education, who was hired by the town to study facilities. Cordeiro cited a comprehensive teacher-student survey that spoke to the popular amenities that the other schools possess and Middletown desires, such as large classrooms; libraries adjacent to each other to share resources; a librarian hub; a lifeskills and nurse station near the entrance of the school; separate middle and high school lockers; fitness and health spaces; and, possibly, two gyms.

“We know the fitness room at the high school is very popular. This is one of the places we have to consider carefully,” said Cordeiro.

“The school is going to be a community building for after hours,” said School Building Committee member Don Morin.

Saugus High, which includes a second-floor indoor track, is the ideal, Cordeiro said.

“We’re going to go to the limit of what RIDE allows,” said School Building Committee member William Nash, referring to the largest possible gyms.

Kraeger said the district has been speaking to Salve Regina University about expanding or sharing athletic spaces.

Security devices may include shades for large glass walls and specialty glass that, while not bulletproof, will slow down an intruder’s ability to gain entrance.

“Security is, unfortunately, something we have to consider,” said Morin, who sat on building committees in Massachusetts that built police stations and can vouch for the effectiveness of such glass.

“Minutes mean a lot,” said Kraeger.

The size of classrooms and other spaces and amenities will depend on enrollment projects, which come in late April. Kraeger said the demographics of new students will be considered with a five-year projection. Navy families and proposed affordable and other housing being built must be considered.

“There are various numbers to be counted. We want to make sure we are capturing the full picture,” said Cordeiro.

“If we build it, they will come,” said Spengler about enrollment projects. “We are going to see an influx in student population.”

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