School district takes step toward moving offices into Reynolds

School committee members spar but ultimately agree to consider sharing empty building with Town of Bristol

By Ted Hayes
Posted 4/21/21

The Bristol Warren Regional School Department’s administration offices and the fate of a beloved theater group drew passionate discussion last Wednesday evening, when the Bristol Warren …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Not a subscriber?

Start a Subscription

Sign up to start a subscription today! Click here to see your options.

Purchase a day pass

Purchase 24 hours of website access for $2. Click here to continue

Day pass subscribers

Are you a day pass subscriber who needs to log in? Click here to continue.

School district takes step toward moving offices into Reynolds

School committee members spar but ultimately agree to consider sharing empty building with Town of Bristol


The Bristol Warren Regional School Department’s administration offices and the fate of a beloved theater group drew passionate discussion last Wednesday evening, when the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee’s budget/facilities subcommittee voted to recommend that the district’s legal counsel meet with Bristol’s town solicitor to discuss the future of the Reynolds School building.

The district has maintained control of the building since last December, after asking the town, which has controlled it for more than a decade, to return it to the school district to help alleviate any potential over-crowding in active schools while social-distancing students during the pandemic. But the district never moved students there, and Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Brice has proposed returning it to town control.

Though the subcommittee’s recommendation is that attorneys discuss the school’s future, Bristol Town Administrator Steve Contente recently offered the district office space in Reynolds, proposing to occupy and maintain the building in a joint occupancy with some Bristol municipal offices.

Subcommittee members voted unanimously to forward the matter to the full school committee, saying they should do due diligence while making no promises.

“This just gives us options,” said Tara Thibaudeau, who motioned for the discussions. “We’re not committing to anything, (just) opening up a conversation.”

The potential move from one side of the Bristol Town Common to the other is not Supt. Jonathan Brice’s favorite option. Earlier this year, he proposed moving the district’s central offices to the Mt. Hope High and Kickemuit Middle schools as a way to save as much as $100,000 in yearly overhead and future capital building repair costs at their current home, the former Oliver School. He said Thursday that he still believes that makes more financial sense, but understands that the school committee doesn’t have to agree with him.

“Moving to the high school allows us to not have the entry costs that we would have if we moved to Reynolds,” said Dr. Brice, who estimated technology upgrade costs at Reynolds would be “substantial.”

“But again, I recognize that I make recommendations. Sometimes those recommendations are followed. Sometimes the school committee, which is their right, moves in a different direction, and I accept that and we move forward.”

Theater company in limbo

Regardless of where the district offices end up, the uncertain fate of the Reynolds School is creating frustration for supporters of the Bristol Theatre Company, which has called the former school home for more than a decade and earlier this month received its second eviction notice since last fall from the school department.

Bristol Town Administrator Steve Contente said that if Bristol were to retain control of the school, it is difficult to see the company in the town’s future plans.

“We are trying to accommodate them, but it’s a public building and the rents were not coming close to covering expenses,” Mr. Contente said last week.

“It’s very expensive to run that building. We’ve been very accommodating, but times have changed, and we cannot justify spending that kind of money on a building housing no town services. We can’t do that to the taxpayers … We will help where we can, but the needs of the town and school need to take priority.”

Several school subcommittee members spoke passionately Wednesday on behalf of the company, saying that losing the troupe, regardless of whether district offices move to Reynolds or anywhere else, would be a blow to the community.

“This theater company is a hugely critical community organization,” subcommittee member Nicky Piper said. “I know that they’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears and money into that building. If we’re going to sit here and say that our priorities are the kids and serving the community, and tolling a death knell on an organization that serves our kids and our community, (that) makes very little sense to me.”

Next steps

Several subcommittee members made it clear that they do not want to maintain control of the school if it doesn’t make sense financially. Given the district’s financial issues, bringing on another expense when there are cheaper options would be a mistake, they said.

“We can’t have another building, period,” said Sheila Ellsworth, the subcommittee chairwoman. “If it’s not feasible for the administrative offices to be in the high school or middle school, then we’ll talk about other things.”

"The town ... has offered us the use of Reynolds," said Marge McBride. "I think that’s something we should study. It would be foolish of us not to investigate what the town has to offer.”

Discussion over the theater company’s future ended up being one of the central points of Wednesday night’s discussion, though Ms. Ellsworth repeatedly called for order when committee member Sarah Bullard attempted to speak about the non-profit.

“We can’t be doing this,” she said. “We have to look at the best interests of our district. I’m done talking about the Bristol Theatre Group; this is not the forum for it.”

But Ms. Piper disagreed. “The reason the theater company is relevant is because somebody gave the superintendent of schools (permission) to send them notice to leave the building.”

If the full committee approves it, district legal counsel Mary Ann Carroll would meet with Bristol’s town solicitor over the coming weeks to explore options for the school.

Said Dr. Brice: “I think the issue is that we’re trying to prepare for all events. So even though it may be my desire to give the building back, it still is an opportunity for the school committee to decide whether or not they want us to move to Reynolds. This is covering all the bases.”


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

2021 by East Bay Newspapers

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

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.