From Newtown tragedy, a conversation emerges nationally and locally in East Providence

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EAST PROVIDENCE — Nervous. Edgy. Angry. Scared. Those are just some of the adjectives used and the emotions felt to describe the state of the country and here locally in East Providence in the days since the unspeakable tragedy of 20 young children being murdered in a Newtown, Conn. Elementary School.

As if often the case in these indescribable situations, people are seeking to answer why such an event occurred. Unfortunately, there usually aren’t any easy solutions.

Nationally, the dialogue is focused on gun control, a worthy topic, though it is just one facet of the conversation.

In city, the focus has been on the overall safety of East Providence’s multiple school buildings — parochial, private and public. And to date, the discussions have been constructive while maintaining civility.

The deplorable state of some of the city’s public schools is at the heart of the discussion. Those buildings are where most of East Providence’s children attend classes. They are the ones that have been most neglected during strained financial times.

This week, however, there’s been a renewed focus on the need to repair the mostly aging facilities, especially after East Providence High School went into a lock-down state following the report of a gun threat on Tuesday, Dec. 18.

The problems at the schools have been talked about often in the recent past, though have proven difficult to remedy.

The city gained access to an addition $9 million in bond money right around the start of the 2012-13 term.

Out of that sum, city facilities manager Ed Catelli said there’s about $7.2 available to spend on planned upgrades. Nearly $2 million was spent on paying bills from improvements made with an initial influx of $6 million in bond money in 2011.

Mr. Catelli said some of the newly-available cash was used to finish up paying for asbestos abatement at the high school last summer as well as for outstanding payments to architects and firms involved in other projects.

Mr. Catelli added that some $750,000 has already been earmarked towards the replacement of entry doors to several school buildings. Those projects are currently out to bid, seeking a general contractor and a project manager.

The balky intercom systems at the high school and Martin Middle School are also at the top of the list of needed repairs. Mr. Catelli said he recently met with architects charged with planning the project and expects it to begin some time in the next few months.

Also, as part of a comprehensive review of all school buildings being done by the city and the East Providence Police Department, Mr. Catelli expects to several closed-circuit security cameras will be added to the ones already installed.

“Some of these things are moving slowly, but they will happen,” Mr. Catelli added.

Besides the review announced earlier this week, East Providence Police Chief Joseph Tavares said at the Dec. 18 City Council meeting his department had secured a $40,000 grant aimed specifically at school security. The grant had been in the works prior to the Newtown tragedy.

At the meeting, Chief Tavares also dispelled rumors that Student Relations Officers (SROs) stationed at the high school and both Martin and Riverside middle schools would be reduced. He said the department is committed to having SROs remain in the buildings.

In addition, the EPPD is increasing the number of patrol runs its makes around all of the city’s schools, private and parochial included.

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