WEST – To ensure that all the proverbial i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed in time, City Council will hold a special meeting this afternoon to vote on whether to put the proposed school building project on the ballot voting for general elections.
City Council Speaker Sharon Ahern said the meeting was scheduled “out of an abundance of caution” on the advice of City Attorney William Conley Jr. on National Day. Local ballot questions must be submitted to the Secretary of State’s office for certification before they can appear on the ballot.
The meeting is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall.
The school board has proposed a $50 million overhaul project that, if approved by voters, would result in a new State Street Elementary School and improvements to Dunn’s Corners and Springbrook Elementary Schools. The board vote is the next step in the process. The board previously approved a resolution asking the state General Assembly to authorize the potential issuance, subject to local voter approval, of up to $50 million in bonds.
The local ballot issue would ask voters to approve the bond issue subject to a 35% reimbursement by the state. The reimbursement rate should be higher, but 35% is the city’s base rate for public housing assistance. The board has set the maximum amount to be borrowed for the project at $50 million. The board also previously approved the school board’s Phase I application to participate in the state Department of Education’s school construction project process.
The School Building Committee is working with JCJ Architecture to design the new school and renovations to the other two and is expected to hold a public forum to update residents on the progress of the project in the near future. The school board selected the plan in May after the subcommittee narrowed the field to a few potential projects.
The proposed building project is seen as the final segment of the city’s Vision 2020 campaign which was developed in 2001 and called for reaching out to elementary schools in the city following the construction of the middle school in 2005 and the completion of high school renovations in 2012.
Since the construction of the middle school and extensive renovations at the high school, in 2017 the state released the Jacobs Report, an assessment of all public school buildings in the state. The report identified work needed in all schools in the district.
Voters rejected two previous plans that would have addressed the city’s elementary schools. A project that was rejected in 2016 focused on elementary school.
A larger plan that would have focused primarily on elementary schools but also provided funding for updates to Westerly Middle School and Westerly High School fell through in 2019.
The November ballot, in addition to candidates for local, state and federal office, will also include proposed amendments to the city charter.