Newport This Week

McKee Signs $190 Million Middletown School Bond Bill

Gov. Dan McKee and the state legislature have approved a $190 million school bond for Middletown, a giant step in the quest to build a new high school and middle school.

Their signatures were completed by June 1, but not announced publicly until June 12.

“This legislation is critical to the future of Middletown education,” said state Sen. Lou DiPalma (D-Middletown), who has advocated for the schools for years.

“As we’ve seen over the last several years across the state, the new educational facilities have enhanced the educational experience of the students fortunate to attend them,” he said. “Additionally, the faculty and staff have also been able to leverage these enhanced facilities to the benefit of their students. Middletown students and faculty still can expect to experience the same impact.”

DiPalma said the bill includes safeguards that town administrator Shawn Brown and the Town Council approved in early May to deal with any cost increases. Middletown is determined to avoid the pitfalls of what is happening in Newport, where several cost increases reported over the last two months are handcuffing the city to keep up with ever-increasing construction costs of a new high school.

The bond includes up to $20 million as insurance, or wiggle room, in case of construction cost overruns. The money could also be used to repair Forest Avenue Elementary School and Aquidneck Avenue School, or add a wing to existing schools.

The town is hoping for new building costs to be around $170 million, with the remainder to be used for repairs or for housing pre-kindergarten through fifth grades.

However, the school district does not yet know the final designs for the schools. Some buildings may be razed, so it is difficult to accurately assess where the money will go.

As for what percentage the town will receive from state and federal sources, the numbers range from 52 to 62 percent. Brown has been fighting for months to convince legislators to award the town the highest reimbursement possible, but declining enrollment projection figures might curtail the numbers.

According to Brown, late Wednesday, The General Assembly increased the school construction bonuses that the Town will be eligible to receive from 17.5 percent to 20 percent, resulting in an overall reimbursement rate of 55 percent.

But that is not the final figure. The General Assembly might still increase that percentage back to Middletown, if the town can somehow meet zero energy efficiency quotients in their designs of the new schools. This would be the last piece of the puzzle, confirmed Vice Chair Tom Welch, and the town should know if that happened by next week, as the legislative sessions ends this week.

However, putting in zero energy infrastructure is much more costly to do, but it would save millions over time.

Voters must pass the bond on Nov. 7. “The time to act is now,” Di- Palma said.

Messages to other Middletown school and town officials for commentary were not returned in time to add to this story.

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