Sneak peek at a schoolhouse transformed
By Tom Killin Dalglish
LITTLE COMPTON — Monday, April 28, 2014, will be a day to remember for many in Little Compton.
That's the moment 256 students and 38 teachers return from the spring break and take up occupancy in the newly renovated Wilbur & McMahon School.
"It's going to be a glorious day when we actually move back in," said Tom Allder, chairman of the School Building Committee, who is also a member of the School Committee.
To celebrate the event and showcase the new digs, school officials have scheduled two
open houses, one for students and parents, the other for the community:
• For students and their families: Thursday, May 1, from 6 to 8 p.m.
• For the community and public: Saturday, May 3, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The two 70-foot modular buildings, sitting on the Peckham Lot a few hundred yards to the west of the school, that have been used as temporary classrooms since February, 2013, will be hauled away sometime in May, Mr. Allder said.
The Peckham Lot is proposed thereafter to become a new multipurpose playing field and recreational area, depending on the outcome of a $250,000 grant application made last winter to the Department of Environmental Management (DEM). A State House announcement about the funding request is due April 17.
What students, parents, and visitors to the renovated building will notice (or not because some of the work is hidden behind walls and above ceilings) when they inspect the work that's been going on inside since February of 2013, is a wide range of improvements.
• New media center. "It's the biggest thing people are going to see," said Mr. Allder. "It's at the center of the 1929 building, and the biggest room in the building except for the gymnasium. All the classrooms are around it. That's the centerpiece of the project."
"We've repurposed the space," he said. "There used to be three skylights there, but we've been able to maintain only one of them."
Principal Joao Arruda said, "I'm excited to to get back in the building right now. I love the library/media center and the way they tie together with the science lab. It's out of this world. It has a very welcoming design."
Kathy Crowley, Little Compton's superintendent of schools, said through spokeswoman Cheryl Silvia, that "it's a very bright building. The science lab and the media center are state-of-the-art."
"People are going to be impressed right off the bat, coming in from the main entrance to the building," said School Committee Chairman Don Gomez. "Everything is light and open and airy, the colors have changed, the floors are sanded, there's new lighting, and extremely good ventilation."
• Mechanical systems. "Behind the scenes is where the money went," said Mr. Gomez.
"Half the cost of the whole project is devoted to the new mechanical system," Mr. Allder said. This includes heating, wiring, a sprinkler system, and a ventilation system, and nearly all of it is above the ceiling, or behind the walls, or under the floors."
The entire building has new ductwork throughout, and 90 percent of the plumbing has been replaced, he said.
• Security, IT, electronics. "We've got a brand new security system, with cameras in the entryways and parking lots," said Mr. Gomez.
"We've also got completely upgraded IT stuff through a grant of $60,000-$70,000," he said, "with connectivity in the classrooms, smart boards and integrated systems."
The gymnasium, Mr. Allder said, has a new permanent sound system, with an electronic motherboard in the back.
• Kitchen area. "We have a new kitchen area," Mr. Gomez said. "It's bright and airy and modern." Mr. Allder said the are has new floors, lighting, and paint.
• Floors and painting. The contractor refinished and restriped the entire gym floor at his own expense, Mr. Allder said.
"All the hallways and the wooden flooring in the original building, and around the media center, have been sanded and newly restored and varithaned," he said. "Now you can see the beauty of the floors."
Throughout the remainder of the building, he said. floors have been refinished with 12"x12" vinyl composite tiles.
"The entire building has been repainted inside. There isn't a surface that didn't get retouched," Mr. Allder said. "The colors have been changed inside, too," he said. "The lower grades will have brighter colors."
• Water. An addition off to the left (west side) of the building, Mr. Allder said, houses a 30,000 gallon water tank used for the sprinkler system.
• Windows. All the windows in the gym and locker room were replaced, and all the double-hung windows have been retooled and given a facelift, Mr. Allder said.
• Outside. Mr. Allder said areas outside the building have been mulched and seeded, and "there's been some interest from some members of the community to do some planting and landscaping." The parking lot has been re-asphalted, he said. A new roof has been put on the entire building.
Mr. Gomez said parts of the old stone wall and facade of the old building " have been cleaned up and returned to the look of 1929."
• Overall. "We've got a new building that's much better for the kids. We basically came in on budget and on schedule. The process worked very well, " said Mr. Gomez. "The contractor ended up a couple of weeks ahead of schedule," he said.
"It's a good product," Mr. Gomez said. "For me, it's a pay-forward building. That's my mindset. We've got a new building that's much better for the kids."
Mr. Allder said, "it's been a long time since back in the Fall of 2007 when I was appointed to this position. A lot's gone on. The original project didn't come to fruition. It's been a great learning experience. I can't say I'd ever do it again. I'm glad it's come to an end, that's for sure."
All this work was financed by bonds issued in the amount of $11.31 million. They were sold in November of last year "at an average interest rate of 3.8 percent, well below" the town's initial estimates said Town Council President Robert Mushen at the time.
The bonds are 20 year general obligation bonds, he said then, and were sold "almost 100 basis points lower" than the estimations the town had made for budgeting purposes of 4.75 percent.
Mr. Mushen said he estimated the lower interest rate the town has achieved can be expected to save taxpayers at least $600,000 over the 20-year life of the loan.
There's the possibility of other good news in years to come. The annual chicken BBQ and fireworks, put off due to construction the last couple of years, may yet be able to return to Veteran's Field.