Committee declines inquiry into availability of Oldham School property

All agree time is not right, especially with potential for enrollment increases

By Mike Rego
Posted 9/24/20

EAST PROVIDENCE — The site of the former Oldham Elementary School on Bullocks Point Avenue will remain under the auspices of the district and not be returned to the city, so it seems after the …

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Committee declines inquiry into availability of Oldham School property

All agree time is not right, especially with potential for enrollment increases

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — The site of the former Oldham Elementary School on Bullocks Point Avenue will remain under the auspices of the district and not be returned to the city, so it seems after the School Committee held a discussion on the matter at a session held September 10.

The item was placed on the agenda by Committee chair and Ward 1 member Charlie Tsonos, who, along with Ward 2 member Tony Ferreira, said he had been approached by Mayor Bob DaSilva about the availability of the site.

The original Oldham building was closed by the state-appointed Budget Commission around 2012 as part of its consolidation plan to return the city to good financial footing. The structure was deemed unsafe and in need of a new roof, which at the time was estimated to cost some $2 million or more.

Mr. Tsonos said he put the matter on the meeting agenda because Mayor DaSilva had contacted members of the committee, saying the city had received inquiries by developers about the availability of the parcel. He added it is likely housing units would be built at the site if it were available.

The chairman said he wanted to engage his peers in a discussion because he was concerned about rising population levels in schools and wondered if it was prudent to potentially return the former Oldham property to the city.

“We have an issue with space,” Mr. Tsonos said, adding enrollment growth “is already impacting Francis” elementary in his ward.

He continued, “As the sitting School Committee we need to figure out what is our plan to address the issue of student growth in the future?…I don’t want us to wait until the last minute. What we need to do is make sure our students are taken care of.”

At-Large member Joel Monteiro voiced his opposition to giving up ownership of the land, echoing the rising school enrollment numbers.

He said he would pose the following scenario to Mayor DaSilva, “If you’re successful with your plans in the city, then we’re bursting at the seams now, we’re going to be in more need of space so what is your plan for educational building in the city? Until we have that discussion I don’t think any discussion of turning school property over to the city can happen.”

Mr. Monteiro added, considering the only other elementary level school in the area, Waddington, is right at its capacity, “That neighborhood needs another school.”

Ward 4 member Jessica Beauchaine, in whose district the schools discussed are situated, said she had no prior knowledge of the Oldham inquiry before it showing up on the September 10 meeting agenda, adding she recently “saw the mayor in person and he never mentioned it.”

She referred to the former Platt-Waters schools where the two buildings remain, though the sale and redevelopment of the parcel has been discussed by previous City Councils. That land has been returned to the city by the district and is available for purchase.

Ms. Beauchaine explained like herself, Ward 4 Councilor Ricardo Mourato said he also did not know about the outreach from the mayor’s office and raised concerns about any potential change to the land.

The Ward 4 member noted there were 523 students registered at Waddington School, which was more than at Riverside Middle School.

Ms. Beauchaine also cited planned developments off the Wampanoag Trail in Ward 4 and others around the city, saying those could lead to an enrollment increase and the need to potentially redistrict schools in the future.

Of the Oldman property she added, “I know we have to do something, but it’s not the right time to give it back to the city.”

Ward 3 member Karen Oliveira suggested the committee form a sub-group to study the matter in its entirety. It would be seated to review such things as population projections and water/sewer issues.

“This is going to impact the entire city, it’s not just one area,” Mrs. Oliveira said, adding the sub-committee would explore options with parents, teachers, administrators and city personnel.

Said Mr. Monteiro, “I don’t look at this as a school department issue,” saying it must also be part of the city-side plans for development.

He continued the district needs more funding, though due to the pandemic is likely wasn’t the time to engage that topic. Still, he said “a neighborhood school is a selling point for the city” and the committee in the future needs to have the “spine to redistrict appropriately, not by demographics,” which also impacts transportation and other costs.

“I would hope that the mayor and his team see this as part of growth and development in the city,” Mr. Monteiro added.

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