LITTLE COMPTON — School officials here have confirmed that Little Compton church buildings will not be used to temporarily house students during the renovation of Wilbur & McMahon School.
The decision was precipitated by a vote, after church services Sunday, by the trustees of United Congregation Church (UCC), which was one of two local churches considered for such use.
The trustee vote, communicated by e-mail from the church pastor, Rev. Richard DenUyl, to School Superintendent Kathy Crowley on Monday, Nov. 5, was based upon advice from Robert Cabral, President of Sakonnet Plumbing, which serves the church.
In a Nov. 2 letter to Rev. DenUyl, Mr. Cabral said “the current [church] well does not have the capacity to handle the amount of people that the Little Compton School Committee is purposing. It would be in your best interests to deny this request.” Mr. Cabral’s letter was attached to the e-mail sent to Superintendent Crowley.
Except for the problem with the well capacity, which nixed the deal, Rev. DenUyl said the trustees were “all for” the use of the school for the students, and had planned to put the issue to a vote of the congregation as soon as a vote could be scheduled. The congregational vote will not now take place.
The idea of using churches to house students had been approved as a money saving measure by the Little Compton School Committee at its Oct. 30 meeting on a 3-2 vote. The UCC was to have housed grades K-1 and St. Andrews Church grades 2-3 if the idea had gone forward. At the same meeting, the committee voted to award the $10,090,000 renovation contract to ADS Construction Company.
A single modular temporary classroom building would then have been used for grades 4 -8. Where the single module is to be located had not been determined.
The savings hoped for with the mix of two churches/one modular for temporary classrooms, as compared with the use of two modulars and no churches, was an estimated $127,000.
Costs for the use of two modulars, to be located on the Peckham Lot west of Veterans Field, has been estimated at $1,037,427. This figure, recently calculated and based in large part on bids by contractors to prepare the site, install electrical and septic and other features needed to make the modular units suitable for students, is considerably more than had been anticipated by school officials.
Temporary housing costs were not included in the project question that went to voters last spring.
The announcement that the churches are no longer an option came Monday morning in an e-mail from Superintendent Kathryn Crowley to parents.
“We have been informed that the Congregational Church is no longer interested in renting classroom space to the Wilbur and McMahon School. We are now in the process of exploring additional options to house our students,” the e-mail read.
The superintendent’s e-mail made no mention of the well problem. School Committee Chairman Donald Gomez on Monday confirmed his understanding that it was the UCC congregation that voted.
No reference was made by school officials to the position of St. Andrews Church. George Crowell, a member of that church’s vestry, said that “we at St. Andrews want to have the students at Wilbur at our building.” It is not clear, however, that the use of just one church would have eliminated the need for two modular classrooms and achieved the sought-for savings.
When the idea of going to the churches was raised at the school committee meeting on Oct. 30, the vote was 3-2 in favor, with committee members Lynn Brousseau LeBreaux and Micah Shapiro voting no.
Mr. Shapiro said he voted as he did because “I don’t believe there’s going to be a savings. There are logistics and costs to having three campuses for the students [two churches and a modular].” He said that splitting special education teachers nurses, security staff, music and art teachers, and custodial staff among three different sites would be detrimental to the students and the school.
Ms. Brousseau said that all the teachers she talked to said that “educationally it’s much better to keep all the children together, the principal, and the special ed teachers, the band and music. and for safety. I can’t imagine moving by car from building to building down the road.”
Ms. Brousseau said about 40 parents, teachers and others were at the Oct. 30 school committee meeting when the vote was taken to approach the churches for temporary housing. “About 99.9 percent of them were against separating the students” into three groups, she said. Mr. Gomez, who chaired the meeting, said most in attendance wanted the two module approach, even though it was more costly.
Against these considerations was the prospect of saving the $127,000 in temporary housing costs. Already the project is projecting a $500,000 shortfall in funding that will have to met, somehow, no one is quite sure how. Options being mentioned include returning to the voters at the Financial Town Meeting in May.
Lured by the possibility of savings, the motion to split the student body into three groups and house them in two churches and a single module was made by school committee member Joe Quinn, and seconded by member David Beauchemin, said Mr. Gomez, who voted in favor of the motion.
The week before, on Oct. 22, Mr. Quinn and Mr. Beauchemin from the school committee, Town Council President Robert Mushen and town council member Charles Appleton, and budget committee member Scott Morrison, along with school interim business manager John McNamee, and Town Business Manager Tom Dunn III, all met in a workshop session to discuss how savings could be achieved in the school renovation project.
Using the churches for temporary housing was one option. The churches would have been paid $4,000 each for 12 months, with the school department paying for electricity, heating, and custodial services (and an extra $200 monthly for septic pumping at the UCC). It is not certain that the church rental period would be limited to 12 months; the renovation project could take longer to complete.
When the project will begin remains up in the air. Tom Allder, chairman of the school building committee had said that with one module (and the use of the two churches), a January 2 start date would have been “plausible.” With two modules, a start date at that time will be “problematic,” he said.
Speaking last week, at a time when the churches were still under consideration, Mr. Allder said the school department was nonetheless “better prepared to move forward with the Peckham lot” and the two module option. All the details are worked out, permits, soil sampling, etc. , he said.
After the announcement that the churches would be out of the picture, Mr. Gomez said Monday that “the schedule is the most important thing at the moment. I guess we suck up the costs.”
The day after the committee he chairs voted to go to the churches, a move he supported at the time, Mr. Gomez sounded the same sentiment. “It’s time to get a stake in the ground,” he said then.
The next meeting of the school committee is November 14, he said.