Portsmouth school officials float idea of using Elmhurst building

Portsmouth school officials float idea of using Elmhurst building

The fate of the chapel at the closed Elmhurst School has been debated for months.
The fate of the chapel at the closed Elmhurst School has been debated for months.

PORTSMOUTH — As if there haven’t been enough ideas proposed on what to do with the vacant Elmhurst School, here’s another one: Why not use it for office space for school administrators?

School Committee Chairman David Croston brought the idea up at Tuesday night’s meeting, saying the district has outgrown the current Administration Building on Middle Road.

“We have people almost literally in closets,” said Mr. Croston, who wants to explore the feasibility of “building out” office space in the special education wing of the building. “By code we would have to strip it almost bare and rebuild it. There is a cost to it.”

The Town Council has been negotiating for months in executive session with the nonprofit Aquidneck Land Trust, which has offered $1.5 million toward the demolition of the school building in exchange for a perpetual conservation easement that would include a new public waterfront park once the school building is removed.

“The town will still take the body of the school down,” said Mr. Croston. “We are only talking about the chapel and the building that surrounds the chapel, and if we head south of that, there’s a music room and an art room.”

If the chapel is torn down, a storage building for the Glen Manor House would need to be built at an estimated cost of about $500,000, he said.

Committee member Andrew Kelly has lead the charge to save the chapel, which he said could be used as a performing arts center. “I’m obviously for this,” said Mr. Kelly, adding that leaving the chapel would save the town an estimated $578,000.

Mr. Croston said he has already discussed the matter with Richard Wimpress of the Glen Manor House Authority and Katie WIlkinson, resident manager of the Glen Manor House. “It’s a beautiful piece of property. It’s waterfront, it’s gorgeous. The question is whether it has value to us,” he said.

The committee voted unanimously to direct administrators to draft a request seeking ideas from engineering and architectural companies. Mr. Croston emphasized that school officials are simply exploring the idea for now. “I don’t think this is something we need to be rushed into,” he said.

A manual for coaches 

In other business Tuesday night, the committee reviewed a draft of a manual for school coaches that addresses various requirements such as CPR training, background checks, certification and a code of conduct.

“These are all of the requirements that one must meet to coach an interscholastic sport in Rhode Island,” said high school principal Robert Littlefield. “A mere eight years ago, the only requirement was No. 1 — that you have a valid First Aid and CPR certification.”

According to the manual, all coaches must receive a five-year athletic coach permit from the R.I. Department of Education, the application for which costs $100; as well as a National Federation of High Schools certification, which requires a $50 fee for its “fundamentals of coaching” course.

Committee member John Wojichowski said he was concerned that the fees may be tough for coaches, who aren’t well-compensated.

Resident Kathleen Melvin agreed, saying that the manual is also somewhat wordy and demanding. “I don’t want to see coaches discouraged from participating,” she said.

The committee plans to revisit the manual draft at its next regular meeting on Aug. 19, the same day that practice for fall sports begins.


The committee also voted to appoint Mr. Croston to the Board of Newport County Regional Special Education.

Previously, the board had been made up of all superintendents, said Mr. Croston, adding that having an elected official on board will ensure a higher level of transparency for taxpayers.

“We spend roughly $6 million in the Region, about 20 percent of our budget,” said Mr. Croston. “We want the best value for our investment.”

Larry Fitzmorris of the fiscal watchdog group Portsmouth Concerned Citizens (PCC) applauded the move. “This is long overdue. The PCC has advocated for elected officials to be in charge of spending our tax money” in the regional special education program, he said. Citizens, he added, need to know more about “what’s going on over there.”

In addition, Jeffrey Schoonover, interim superintendent and interim director of instruction and assessment, was appointed to the East Bay Education Collaborative.

Ready for all-day K

The committee received an update on the district’s new all-day kindergarten program that begins later this month.

When the committee approved the program in March, the district was offering half-day kindergarten classes at Hathaway and Melville schools. School officials said the rigor of Common Core State Standards, however, made an all-day program a necessity.

According to Mr. Croston, 144 students were enrolled in the kindergarten program as of Tuesday, with eight new registrations scheduled for a total of 152 spread out over seven classrooms at Hathaway and Melville.

Mr. Schoonover presented schedules for each school day that showed blocks for literacy, math, writing, movement, science, unified arts, read-aloud time and recess. He also said furniture and supplies for the kindergarten classrooms were arriving this week.

“Everything’s moving along just fine,” he said.

Committee member Emily Copeland commended teachers “for getting together and getting it organized so quickly.”

Added Mr. Croston, “This is a huge step for our district, so it’s quite exciting.”

Melville fire upgrades

The committee also heard from Christopher DiIuro, director of finance and administration, about recent work to bring Melville School in line with state fire codes.

The district removed a 10,000-gallon underground oil tank due to concerns about contamination or leakage, he said, noting that the R.I. Department of Environmental Management says there are no environmental issues on the property.

“We also installed the new water line from the south end of the property to the building. That’s going to supply our sprinklers,” he said, adding that asbestos had also been removed from some pipes in the building.

Last week a contractor working for the district inadvertently ruptured a gas line, which brought firefighters to the scene to ventilate the building so it was safe for re-entry. Despite that setback, the school will be ready when teachers report Aug. 19, said Mr. Diluro.

School board mum on Krizic

At its first meeting following the resignation of Dr. Lynn Krizic as superintendent of schools July 31, the committee made only a brief statement.

“We deeply appreciate Dr. Krizic’s two years of service to our district and we wish her great success. She positioned Portsmouth well in her two years. On the advice of counsel tonight, we will not make any other statements,” said Mr. Croston at the start of the meeting.

Dr. Krizic’s resignation came after she requested and was granted by the school board in June a 30-day leave of absence to deal with what was described as a family matter.

On a personal note, Mr. Croston said, “I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Krizic and I look forward to her support of our district as we transition into new leadership.”

After the meeting, Mr. Croston said a joint statement from Dr. Krizic and the School Committee will be released in the near future.