Column: A new East Providence High School would be an historic achievement

By Nate Cahoon
Posted 11/1/18

Any way you look at it, November 6th will be an historic one in the City of East Providence. We’ll establish a City Council with four year terms. For the first time ever, we’ll choose our …

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Column: A new East Providence High School would be an historic achievement


Any way you look at it, November 6th will be an historic one in the City of East Providence. We’ll establish a City Council with four year terms. For the first time ever, we’ll choose our own chief executive to carry out the ordinances and policies of the people. And most importantly, through votes on ballot items 1 and 4, we’ll set the course of our city for the next century.
As you’ve likely heard, East Providence High School is past its useful life. That grand old building that served so many, so well for nearly 70 years, cannot meet the needs of the twenty-first century student. It is an expensive nightmare to maintain, as we continue to spend unplanned millions to patch problems that should have been properly addressed decades ago. Its outdated architecture precludes the use of modern teaching methods, such as maker-spaces and collaboration to provide a comprehensive learning experience. Distribution of electrical outlets is inadequate. It is impossible to secure, as its sprawling layout, separate Career and Technical Center and multiple entrances hearken back to a simpler time, before armed maniacs routinely invaded schools and murdered children. The building is often too hot, or too cold. The plumbing has disintegrated. There is a single science laboratory shared by more than 1,500 students. It leaks; it leaks through the roof and through the windows and through the very foundation. All research conducted to date indicates that the cost to properly upgrade the school exceeds $100 million. In short: it is not the facility our students deserve; it is a liability we can no longer afford; and we can do better.
Fortunately, we have a chance to do just that on November 6th.
Item number 1 on the local ballot authorizes the state to provide $250 Million to Rhode Island districts for school construction. Item number 4 authorizes the City of East Providence to borrow up to $189.5 million to fund construction of the new school. If both items pass, East Providence will be ahead of the rest of the state. Thanks to the proactive work of our School and Building Committees, we have passed the first two stages of the state’s school construction process. We are in position to capture more than $100 Million in state reimbursement to build the new school. In other words, with the passage of both ballot items 1 and 4 on November 6th, East Providence will have the “all clear” to build a brand new, secure, safe and accessible 21st century facility for less than the estimated cost to upgrade the existing building.
Because EP has led the way on this effort, we will have the first shot at the state funding. We will be ahead of districts like Providence and Pawtucket and Warwick and Cranston that have hundreds of millions - if not billions - of dollars in school construction need. But if Item 4 fails to pass, then we go back to the drawing board; we go to the end of the line and try to convince the state that the old building - that outdated, inefficient, unsecure, and crumbling relic - is worth the investment of funds needed to drag it into the 21st century. We will have to compete for funding against Providence and Pawtucket and Warwick and Cranston. We will have to convince state administrators that it makes sense to spend state money refurbishing a 70-year old structure while other communities move forward with new buildings. And if we hope to remain a viable community, we’ll need to convince families and businesses that it makes sense to move to or remain in East Providence while the rest of the state passes us by. I’ll leave it to the reader to formulate those odds.
East Providence will make history on November 6th. To quote an esteemed friend and mentor, “History never sleeps.” I hope that on November 7th, we’ll be on the right side of it.

Mr. Cahoon is the current Ward 3 School Committee member and Chairman of the East Providence High School Building Committee. He is also the unopposed candidate for City Council Ward 3. He is a 1993 graduate of EPHS, a veteran of the United States Air Force, and holds degrees from Brown and Northeastern Universities. He and his wife Jennifer, a former EPHS teacher for 17 years, have two children Kayleigh and Ryan, both students in East Providence schools.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.