Not that long ago, we suggested that the Barrington School Department hit pause, take a breath, and allow more time to develop a plan for the future of its elementary school buildings. Well, they …
Not that long ago, we suggested that the Barrington School Department hit pause, take a breath, and allow more time to develop a plan for the future of its elementary school buildings. Well, they did, but the results are still breathtaking.
Two years ago, the district rushed to create a set of building plans that the public barely understood or embraced. Facing backlash, school leaders went back to the beginning, held a long series of public workshops and public meetings, and retraced their steps. They’ve come to the end of that process a second time, yet as the countdown to submit construction proposals to the Rhode Island Department of Education looms, there is still widespread confusion about what the plan is, and why.
A flurry of changes in the 11th hour have the district considering a new educational model. The prevailing scenario would be to group the town’s Pre-K to Grade 2 children in two separate school buildings, before they all transition to a town-wide building for Grades 3 to 5. Locations, designs and costs are all to-be-determined, though estimates are approaching $200 million (half to be paid by Rhode Island taxpayers, the other half by Barrington taxpayers).
Noteworthy is that all the new buildings would be exactly that – new. The prevailing direction is to abandon the town’s four existing elementary school buildings, in favor of three (or four, still to be determined) shiny new buildings. The scale of the proposal, in terms of cost, impact, construction waste, disposal costs and disruption, is staggering. It also defies logic. How can this small suburban town, nearly devoid of any commercial tax base, embrace and absorb a $200 million project and the property tax impact lasting decades?
How can a town with a strong environmental consciousness — which was one of the first to ban plastic bags, which is maneuvering for coastal resiliency, which can’t fathom an investment in artificial turf because of alleged environmental impacts it might unleash – contemplate the bewildering piles of waste generated by the demolition of two, three or four school buildings?
How can there be no options to renovate, modernize or update even one, maybe two, of the existing school buildings, thereby saving money and reducing waste? How can this be the best plan for Barrington?
We know in asking these questions, we are minimizing the hours upon hours of work by many school leaders, volunteers and hired experts. They have traveled a long road to get to this final outcome. Yet in the end, the final outcome is once again bewildering. It includes a rewrite of the age groupings for Barrington school buildings, abandonment of every elementary building currently in use, and construction of not one, not two, but three entirely new facilities.
Once again, the public has a right to ask: How did we get here?