Back to school — build new schools?

Facilities study highlights repairs needed, and plan for future schools in Barrington

By Josh Bickford
Posted 9/9/21

Barrington school leaders are planning for the future. And the future might not include Nayatt School or Sowams School. 

A facilities study that is focused on Barrington Public Schools offers …

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Back to school — build new schools?

Facilities study highlights repairs needed, and plan for future schools in Barrington

Posted

Barrington school leaders are planning for the future. And the future might not include Nayatt School or Sowams School. 

A facilities study that is focused on Barrington Public Schools offers the framework for some significant changes, including possible renovations to the town’s elementary schools or replacing the schools altogether. One plan also calls for Nayatt and Sowams schools to be eliminated and Hampden Meadows School and Primrose Hill to be completely rebuilt.

Barrington Superintendent of Schools Michael Messore cautioned that the district is very early in the process, but added that it is important for officials to plan for the future.

“We are thinking forward,” Mr. Messore said. Also included in the facilities plan are a series of health and safety improvements that require immediate attention. 

At a meeting last month, members of the Barrington School Committee voted to advance the Stage I submission to the Rhode Island Department of Education. Barrington Schools’ Director of Finance and Administration Doug Fiore said the next step will have the district’s consultants, Kaestle Boos Associates, share a presentation with the Barrington Town Council at its Sept. 13 meeting.

“We hope that the council will support the concept that the school department is in need of facility improvements and will endorse the Stage I submission to RIDE,” Mr. Fiore said. 

Mr. Fiore added that Stage II would focus on identifying the district’s top choice for facilities upgrades. A recent presentation offered an overview of the options and listed the estimated costs. They range from renovation work at all four elementary schools (at an estimated cost of $60 to $70 million) to the complete realignment of grades and newly-constructed schools. Pre-kindergarten to Grade 2 would take place at a new Primrose Hill School while students in Grades 3 to 5 would attend a new Hampden Meadows School. (That option included an estimated cost of $120 to $140 million, although the cost of all work would drop dramatically after factoring in reimbursement funding the state.)

Mr. Messore said the improvements would serve a number of needs in the district: it would replace the old, outdated buildings; provide more space for a growing student enrollment; create an equitable experience for all students; and better serve the educational needs of Barrington students. Mr. Messore said the approach to teaching and learning has changed over the years — when Barrington’s schools were first built, collaborative learning and break-out spaces were not part of the educational dialogue. 

Mr. Messore said the new Barrington Middle School is a great example of how a well-designed school building can better meet today’s student’s needs.

The facilities study lists some high level considerations regarding the district’s schools — it states that Barrington’s elementary schools are overcrowded, which is impeding the delivery of curriculum. It also referred to building schools that provide dedicated spaces for art, music, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), “maker-spaces,” teacher collaboration, and dedicated gymnasiums. The gymnasiums in the current elementary schools double as cafeterias and classroom space for other subjects. 

The facilities study referred to targeted grade configurations: Pre-kindergarten to Grade 2; Grades 3 to 5; Grades 6 to 8; and Grades 9 to 12. The study stated that the new configuration would create a more equitable experience for all Barrington students.

The superintendent said he does not want the public to become alarmed about the facilities report, or the idea of replacing some of the district’s schools. The school department is just planning ahead, he said, 

Immediate needs

Part of the facilities assessment report focuses on the more urgent needs of the district. 

According to the presentation documents, “All priority 1 and 2 deficiencies must be addressed.” These include the roof at the high school and the BHS electrical systems. Mr. Messore said that while the high school had a renovation/addition in 1999, officials then did not replace the building’s entire electrical system. He said recently one of the large older electrical fuses in the high school failed, and when the maintenance team went to replace it they discovered that companies no longer manufacture those fuses. Barrington officials searched the area and were fortunate to locate a replacement fuse in Providence.

Hampden Meadows School also has some building deficiencies, stated the facilities report. Among the immediate needs were mechanical systems, plumbing, interior millwork and casework, and technology systems. Mr. Messore said the old furnace in Hampden Meadows School unexpectedly shut down last year and needed to be replaced. 

The facilities study lists numerous priority deficiencies at Nayatt School: Fire and life safety, mechanical systems, electrical systems, interior mill work and casework, technology, and ADA accessibility. The report also shows priority work needed at Primrose Hill School and Sowams School: Mechanical systems, ADA accessibility and other issues. 

“The priority is to address the health and safety needs,” Mr. Messore said. 

If members of the town council vote to support the Stage I submission on Sept. 13, the school department will then need to file the submission by Sept. 15. 

Barrington Middle School 2.0

If the discussion about a large school construction project in Barrington sounds familiar, it should.

Just a few years ago, officials began a lengthy journey to build a new middle school. Barrington Superintendent of Schools Michael Messore said the district is following the same path as it begins planning for renovations to or new construction of the elementary schools in town.

Mr. Messore could recall presenting the plan for a new middle school to a former town council, fielding questions about the costs associated with the work and other items. He said Barrington is a community that supports the local public schools. Mr. Messore said the former council recognized the situation with the old middle school — they had walked its halls and witnessed its problems. 

“They knew it was a money pit,” he said. 

Mr. Messore expects that part of this process will include officials looking at how much it will cost Barrington to bring the current buildings in-line with the new middle school, how much it will cost to upgrade the ventilation systems and security systems, how much it will cost to create better learning environments.

Mr. Messore said officials will likely ask the question if it is actually more affordable to build new schools.

A few years ago, taxpayers approved a $68.4 million bond to pay for the new middle school. Building committee officials, working with consultants and district administrators, were happy to announce more recently that the project was completed millions under the original budget. The project also benefited from a higher reimbursement rate from the state.

But before residents will need to ponder plans for new or renovated elementary schools, the district is focusing on immediate health and safety needs. 

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