Residents fought to save the Rogers High gymnasium from demolition when a new school is built during a meeting of the Ad Hoc School Building Committee on Feb. 28.
One resident, Mardie Corcoran, called the gym “one of the nicest in the state,” and said she was part of a group considering starting a capital campaign to save it. But Cathie Elithorpe, CEO of the project’s architects, SLAM Collaborative, said retaining the gym would be costly.
“It needs a new roof, and as it is part of an existing building, it would need a new wall as well to be a stand-alone building,” she said. “To incorporate it into the new building would require a massive redesign, [which is] impractical to do at this point.”
All the previous designs for the new school had necessitated demolishing the gym before construction as it stood on the new structure’s footprint. But a slight tweaking of the new building’s placement has obviated this need.
Supt. Colleen Burns Jermain also announced that the running track and soccer pitch would be moved from its present site. She said designers have become concerned about what’s underneath the present track, as it was once a dump site. While she is not sure where the new track will be located, she said it will not be off site.
One thing that has not changed is the need for more money. The current budget has $80.5 million for hard construction costs but estimates for the project are more than $87 million. The design team continues to explore ways to cut costs. However, they are only now beginning to develop final blueprints, from which they will be able to determine where additional savings might be. There have been several design changes in the last two weeks. The building’s footprint has been rotated on its axis, moving its front right corner, if you look at the building from Wickham Road, closer to the road. Elithorpe called this siting as being on the property’s “sweet spot.”
It moves the back left corner further from an abandoned filled-in quarry and what Elithorpe termed the site’s “least favorable soil conditions.” The reorientation also affects the building’s floor plan. Spaces for cosmetology and automotive programs will not flank the building’s south face running along Wickham Road, as they did in the previous iteration. Now, the cosmetology space would be in the rear, while the automotive space would be on the building’s northwest side. One more change is that the small stand-alone office building for district offices will be near Old Fort Road.
The traffic patterns for the site would also change. The state requires that buses park at an angle rather than pulling up in a line. The district is appealing to the state to continue with its old pattern of linear parking, which would save about $300,000 in site costs.
Further, the angled parking would require buses to pull onto the property from Old Fort Road, rather than from several directions, as they do now. One neighbor objected, and Elithorpe said they hoped to disperse the traffic flow.
Two neighbors were concerned by site conditions. Corcoran said neighbors had spent money remediating the degraded water in the nearby Lily Pond, and she hoped there would no longer be stormwater runoff from the high school site. Elithorpe said both a civil and environmental engineer were working on that concern.
Leslie Grosvenor, who lives on Harrison Avenue, asked who would be responsible for contaminated soil on the site. Jermain said the city would be responsible.
The committee approved a motion to allow architects to begin designing five items not currently budgeted: the automotive and cosmetology spaces; a stand- alone central office; a field for the hammer throw; and an emergency generator for the kitchen.
Committee member Rebecca Bolan called the proposal “a tough one,” as they would be committing money with no guarantee it would be repaid. But project manager Kyle Lentini, of Downes Construction, said Rhode Island Department of Education regulations mandate the design work be approved by March 2, so they had to proceed before a funding source was in place.
The design and other soft costs for the five projects could total about $1.5 million of the expected $9 million total cost. However, Lentini said Newport’s true exposure is only around $100,000.
This much smaller figure is due to the fact the anticipated funding source for them is an anticipated multi-million-dollar bond premium coming from the sale of the $98.5 million bond issue Newport is taking to market later this month.
Should Newport reap the extra funds, all of both the soft and hard costs for the five add/alternatives would be funded. If not, the designers’ work would be suspended, and Newport would be responsible to pay for two or three weeks of their time.
The committee voted on several items related to the Pell Elementary School project. It approved spending $5,000 to move dirt caused by a slightly larger excavation effort for the eight-room expansion. However, it voted down $45,000 for extra fencing for a playground and $15,000 to upgrade the school’s HVAC monitoring system.