Smaller Bites at the Facility Problem

And of course, then there is the emerging school facilities plan

Over the last few weeks, the South Kingstown School Committee has made some pretty big decisions.  Regardless of where you fall on this, everyone is acknowledging the changing demographics of South Kingstown.  What was emerging in 2010 became clear in 2018.  A few years of denial ultimately forced a decision in the face of what then became glaringly obvious by the start of 2022.

The Committee took a step in the right direction in dealing with the generational demographic shift.  The challenge they face now stems from the delays and deferments that have occurred along the way.  The district is faced with an inventory of buildings that need work.  The political turmoil of recent years, generally stirred up by interests fighting for their share of property tax dollars, have stalled what might otherwise be responsible stewardship of major assets.  It also extends the vulnerability the district faces as new contractors come in to assess what is needed.

The first few presentations from these contractors raised some concerns.  The similarities to recent history were there on almost every slide.  A broad overview of the needs of our district told us something that most already knew.  As is almost universally the case with these meetings, the scope of a possible comprehensive project was very high.  With all buildings included in the analysis, a total just shy of $180 million was presented.  Coming after a spectacular failure of an $85 million bond, the early proposal seemed a little tone deaf.

A back of the envelope calculation helps counter the argument that this is the genuine need.  And with the inevitable scope creep that follows long range public projects (think Big Dig), it is critical to start off on the right footing.  Just the HVAC projects alone represent more than $2,500 per student per year!  South Kingstown could buy every student a new space heater AND a high end Air Conditioner EVERY YEAR for less than this estimate’s scope.  Why start so high?

Despite this initial assessment, there is some encouraging movement in the process.  A much needed reconfiguration is occurring that will balance out the town’s diminishing student population.  The chaos of the last few years created an asymmetric learning loss while ignoring redistricting needs that should occur every few years along boundaries, but instead haven’t been touched in over a decade.  The Committee took that decisive step a few weeks ago and followed up with another information meeting last week.

Perhaps it is time to rethink the focus.  South Kingstown spoke loud and clear about the need for work on the High School.  Rather than roll everything into a massive multi facility project that will be subject to the whims of elected officials over the next decade, maybe it is time to simply consider an overhaul of the high school.  The glut of floorspace, deferment of bigger ticket maintenance projects, and the emerging possibility of an early learning CTE program suggest an opportunity.  The community can get behind a tightly controlled, purposeful renovation.  It would not support a project that resembles another blank check like the last vote seemed to be.

The small steps that have already been taken can become big steps towards restoring confidence in the district. 

One thought on “Smaller Bites at the Facility Problem

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  1. Thank you Roland . I have a speaking engagement next week might be doubling or tripling of last one. We’re on a roll here. I just have to be rained in on inviting folks. Need your and or Kirstens ok. On a roll here. My problem I don’t want to say NO.


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