Eaton employees, volunteers put finishing touches to East Providence’s updated Oldham School

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EAST PROVIDENCE  — Comparing the sense of anticipation to “Christmas Eve,” Elaine Allen, principal of the new Oldham Elementary School, called the final renovations being done to the building by dozens of Eaton Corporation employees and others Wednesday, Sept. 11, “truly a gift.”

Ms. Allen, like many of her students, moved from the previous Oldham location on Bullocks Point Avenue to the former Meadowcrest Early Learning Center locale on Bart Street a couple of miles across Riverside. Ms. Allen, a teacher in the East Providence system for 20 years prior, is beginning her second year as the Oldham principal.

While not a complete overhaul of the facility, enough work has and will be completed to make the new Oldham a more modern and conducive place to learn.

The playground portion of the project began with Community Development Block Grants procured by the city’s Planning Department. A bit later and after hearing about the move, Eaton representatives chose the new Oldham building as its main charity endeavor for the year, pouring in six figures-worth of funds.

Executives and employees from around the world flew in for Wednesday’s topping off event. The company, which relocated to East Providence at the former Fram building on New Road in Rumford from Warwick last year and manufactures components used in the aerospace industry, is holding its annual yearly meeting in Providence on Thursday, Sept. 12.

“They contacted us late last spring when they heard we were moving and some of the volunteers have been with us for months,” Ms. Allen explained Eaton’s entry into the project. “They told us they had chosen us for their yearly charity project. They picked us out of other places they could have helped around the world. It was really a shot in the arm for the school, especially because we’ve been under the threat of closure for so long.”

The former Oldham building found itself on the potential chopping block throughout 2012 as the state-appointed Budget Commission looked to consolidate facilities in the system and save money. The Bullocks Point Avenue structure was deemed to be in a state of disrepair with no cost-effective solution.

Originally, the Budget Commission’s plan was to combine the Oldham students and staff with those at Waddington Elementary. But after some prodding from the community and negotiation, the decision was made to close the old Oldham and move it en masse to the Meadowcrest location. Those students and staff at the former Meadowcrest Early Learning Center, in turn, were more comfortably moved to Waddington.

However, because Meadowcrest had long gone unused as an actual elementary school, it was in need of much updating. Eaton volunteers, members of Ed Catelli’s city facilities department, school department workers, teachers, parents, administrators and community volunteers all pitched in to help revitalize the building.

“What’s taken place has far exceeded our original plans, and that’s due mostly to the Eaton people,” Ms. Allen said. “It’s really been a coordinated thing, working with the community. Ed Catelli and his people have been phenomenal. The new administration, all the volunteers from the city have been great.”

Before the Eaton volunteers took their leave, they will have helped install a new playground, landscaped that space and all around the building, painted several areas of the school and helped replace windows among other tasks.

Once a Kindergarten room at Meadowcrest, a refurbished library is being built at the new Oldham. Window replacement of the in-the-round room alone cost $30,000. The lighting, ceiling, furniture, shelving and carpeting have been replaced. A large, flat screen television will be installed.

Referred to as the “gymatorium,” the place where children assemble and take physical education instruction has also been renovated with fresh coats of paint, including an Eaton-inspired mural, an LCD projector system, two rock climbing walls, new dining tables and a dance step unit.

“The Eaton people kept asking what else, what else do you need? Working in East Providence for so long, dealing with the budget problems we’ve had, we really used to hearing that. We kind of had to shift our thinking to do it. We really don’t want to let the Eaton people go because they’ve been so good to us,” Ms. Allen said.

Parents and students got their first glimpse of the construction a few days prior to the actual start of school last week. Unfortunately, some walked away with a misconception of how the project was going and what would be the final result. Concerns about ongoing construction and large class sizes, though, were quickly dispelled by the principal.

“It’s demoralizing to hear and read things like that because we’ve all worked so hard to make things right,” Ms. Allen explained. “I don’t think some people who were here last week really got the whole picture.”

Ms. Allen continued, saying there are just under 200 students enrolled in grades K through 5 this year at Oldham and class sizes have been brought to collectively bargained standards. And after viewing what is being done to the building, she said she’s had several parents either call or stop in asking if there is space for their children to attend the new Oldham.

“The parents are excited. The kids are excited about what’s being done to their school. Our absences are already down. The tardiness is down,” Ms. Allen added. “It’s going to be a beautiful, bright, lively place for children to learn. We can’t thank Eaton and the other volunteers enough. It’s like we hit the lottery. That’s how fortunate we feel.”

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