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School Committee Approves $1 Million EGHS Library Renovation

Now the proposal moves to the Town Council.

After two hours of discussion, members voted 5-0 to spend $988,000 to renovate the East Greenwich High School library at Tuesday night’s School Committee meeting.

The money had been slated to come from the surplus from the $52 million bond passed by voters in 2008 for the new Cole Middle School and other projects, including the new entrance at the high school. Those projects came in several million dollars under budget.

The state General Assembly’s recent three-year moratorium on all Department of Education-reimbursable building projects has forced the School Committee into a “spend it or lose it” proposition, at least in regard to getting 40 percent reimbursement from the state.

And the state has limited the usable surplus funds to just what's left over from high school building projects. That means the School Committee has $988,000 for the library.

In addition, the the district would have to use the construction company that has done the work so far at the high school - . That would mean that the work would not go out to a competitive bid.

The would include, at minimum, a substantial make-over, with new lighting, an improved heating system, and a new layout. But there is a bigger plan that would increase the size of the library by pushing into the hallway and eliminating a staircase there.

Of the five School Committee members present (Susan Records and Paul Martin were absent), several seemed in favor of this second plan, with Mary Ellen Winters suggesting that the first plan was a mere “re-decorating.” But the second plan is estimated to cost around $1.2 million.

The big question was, what will the Town Council have to say about the plan? The Council must approve any spending authorized by the School Committee. Two Council members attended the meeting - Jeff Cianciolo and Michael Kiernan. While neither of them indicated how they would vote, during the discussion, Kiernan did have questions.

“Am I comfortable? Absolutely not,” said Kiernan when asked what he thought of the $988,000 proposal. “I need to know exactly how and why the money’s going to be spent.”

The School Committee has seen two proposals on the library from project architect SMMA. At Tuesday's meeting, Jon Winikur, of project manager Strategic Building Solutions, said that cost specifics would only come once the project was allowed to proceed.

Still, he said, contractor E.W. Burman was aware of the situation and was working on a bid. That was being paid for, according to officials, through an allocation of $15,000 made two weeks ago to cover initial library expenses. That money will be forfeited if the project is not ultimately approved.

Committeeman Jack Sommer spoke forcefully against what he described as a hasty decision.

"I'm concerned about the time pressure," he said. He asked Supt. Victor Mercurio to research the situation a bit more with the state Department of Education to see if there were alternatives. Sommer noted that more than $3 million had been allocated to fix the Meadowbrook floor and wanted to know if a bit of that money could be used to augment the $988,000 for the library.

Winikur, of SBS, said that even a day's delay at this point would put the project in jeopardy. By initial estimates, the project would take 12 weeks. Winikur said that if acted on soon, it was definitely possible under that time-frame, noting that the more complicated EGHS science labs were completed in 10 weeks. But, he warned against too much delay.

School Committee Chairwoman Deidre Gifford, who met with Council President Michael Isaacs last week on this issue, said she was very uncertain if the Town Council would approve any project if it was not very strictly defined.

The proposal will go before the full Town Council at a meeting on Sept. 6.

Lynn Krim August 17, 2011 at 12:12 PM
"………cost specifics would only come once the project was allowed to proceed". Sounds a bit like Pelosi telling the House, they had to vote for the Obama Healthcare Bill before they would learn what was in it. Just saying…..
Betsy Fenik August 17, 2011 at 12:15 PM
How many times will we have to renovate the library? Will they get it right the first time? Why are there no cost specifics now? What is their plan? I know I don't have any erxtra money and it seems the town doesn't have any extra money so I find it hard to believe that non-essential work is being talked about AGAIN.
Lynn August 17, 2011 at 12:45 PM
This is quite the joke with the high school students, since the biggest complaint about the high school library is not on the FACILITY...it is the mere fact that the LIBRARY CLOSES at the high school at 2:30 every day and the students are KICKED OUT while they want to do homework after 2:30 because the librarian is in the union that dictates her hours and they do not stay longer than 2:30 everyday...what a JOKE...all our taxes and our kids can't even use the library at all after school and by the way, hardly EVER during school, so putting 1 million dollars into it is a total waste of money. Why doesn't this town get students to go in and talk to the council about what bothers them about the library....NO HOURS TO GO ON AND WORK OR READ OR RESEARCH!!!!
Tucker Henry August 17, 2011 at 01:13 PM
This is wrong! That money was earmarked of the Cole School project. Those monies should be returned to the taxpayers immediately. I'm horrified that someone even has to point this out to the School Committee.
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) August 17, 2011 at 01:34 PM
This issue has come up in several meetings, including last night. Supt. Mercurio said that he would be discussing adding library hours before and after school with the teachers union.
M Berg August 17, 2011 at 02:22 PM
EGSC is spinning out of control......they will spend us into oblivion. No details? What is in it for Winikur and SBS and the rush? Where are the ethics? Let's see if our Town Council has a backbone.
EG Lurker August 17, 2011 at 03:43 PM
Lynn, I couldn't agree more - how many members of the committee will be using the library? Zero. It's time to actually take the time to speak to students about their needs & wishes for a fully functional library. I hardly think that "a substantial make-over" is what the students want or need. My guess is that they'd prefer the aforementioned extended hours, as well as an improved collection, and an increase in the number of computer workstations. Make the library useful for their library needs, and not just another feather in the cap of the school committee members...it's time for the grown-ups (a term I use very loosely) to do their homework and ask those who know best what they need...
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) August 17, 2011 at 03:55 PM
Here's a story that covers some of what you are referring to: http://patch.com/A-gxch
EG Lurker August 17, 2011 at 04:01 PM
Thanks Elizabeth - as it reads, there is nothing in there regarding a facelift, but rather, from the mouths of babes: "...resources were too limited and out of date..." "...the librarians are too strict about when you can actually use the library..." "...it’s never available..." "...It’s not open after school enough...” "...It's kind of inaccessible..." "...there isn’t enough computer access..." "...The laptops are slow..." "...The laptops are horrendous..."
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) August 17, 2011 at 05:08 PM
Here's another article that addresses a planned technology upgrade for the high school: http://patch.com/A-dSd6
M Berg August 17, 2011 at 06:06 PM
Elizabeth, Is it legal to spend money on such projects when the electorate of EG was specific on what the 52 million bond was for? Then why can't the school committee spend this on anything their heart desires!
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) August 17, 2011 at 07:25 PM
Mary, I'm working on getting a copy of the bond referendum language to post on the website.
Chuck Barton August 17, 2011 at 10:23 PM
Taking a different tack - any renovation should be based on enhancing the library program, which should be an extension of the mission of the high school, its educational philosophy and the general curriculum. The library program should have a measureable outcomes that the renovations will support. Perhaps the School Committee did discuss the library program and whether it is achieving its goals and whether the renovations will enhance student outcomes. Unfortunately the article reads like the improvements are designed to enhance the appearance of the facility and not the substance of the educational program for our students.
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) August 18, 2011 at 12:51 PM
I have just attached a copy of the actual $52 million bond language from the 2008 ballot. Thanks to Christine DiMeglio from the Superintendent's office.
Dean Fachon September 07, 2011 at 12:15 AM
This boondoggle should be stopped in its tracks. Completely irresponsible spending at a time when the whole Country is running on empty! May the Town Council exercise more common sense.
Harper Valley Pta 2 September 07, 2011 at 02:49 AM
As a concernced citzen of the Town of East Greenwich. The money should not be spent. As a country, town, and individual residents we are all feeling the burden of these very difficult financial times. I hope thye town council does the right thing. As for the residents who are upset with the SC. We as a whole had our chance to make changes in November. For the residents who are upset with the hard working teachers and librarians. Put yourself in their shoes. When is the last tiime you worked for free. Many teachers stay after school and help the students at EGHS. The students have computer labs and classrooms that they can go to. The SC is over their head. The choice is yours in the next election. Like many SC of the past we must deal with the irrational decisions of the SC of the present. Until next time.....
ratcat1 September 07, 2011 at 02:24 PM
I agree that the "mission" of the high school should be paramount and ,if as reported, it closes at 2:30,then the primary objective of the library is to STAY OPEN AFTER 2:30....AND..... if the above comments are correct, having computers that slow is ridiculous. Use your heads and triage the problems rather than installing new art or windopws or whatever is on the agenda.

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