SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The application for the next key phase of South Kingstown’s proposed $85 million facilities plan survived two close votes this week, in what has become a bumpy road to try to get the document submitted to the state by a mid-February deadline.
The School Building Committee voted 7-4 on Monday to recommend submitting the Stage 2 application to the Rhode Island Department of Education. Then on Tuesday night, the School Committee discussed the application for more than an hour before approving it on a 3-2 vote.
While the Stage 2 application had the support of educators and school administrators on the building committee, the four town employee members including Town Manager Rob Zarnetske, Facilities Superintendent Mark Russo and Finance Director Zachary Saul, voted against it.
“My one concern on this has been and continues to be whether or not we’ve adequately addressed the requirement in the regulations, both Stage 1 and Stage 2, for a description of the operational cost impacts,” Zarnetske said. “The version of the document I reviewed last week was not, in my view, very specific.”
The document described $1.1 million in energy cost savings, Zarnetske said.
“But the analysis, the description in my view, is not very detailed,” he said. Beyond outlining building energy costs, the application should include staffing and transportation cost studies as well, Zarnetske said.
School Committee members that voted to approve the application, which heads to the Town Council, were Chairwoman Emily Cummiskey, Sarah Markey and Christie Fish. Melissa Boyd and Michelle Brousseau voted no. Members Kate Macinanti and Paula Whitford abstained from voting.
“I remain very concerned that we’re not fully addressing issues of declining enrollment,” Boyd said. “I know there are efforts to do that. I’m very concerned about the operational cost savings details.”
Macinanti said she was surprised by the ‘no’ votes on the building committee, which had offered little pushback.
“I walked away from the meeting asking, ‘Why was the town side a blanket no,’” she said.
“If the committee that has spent so much time and energy can’t come to unanimous recommendation, or as close as it can … how can we as the school committee be confident in voting to submit this to RIDE for approval?”
Macinanti suggested another meeting with the building committee to explore the issues more.
The town plans to submit the Stage 2 Necessity of School Construction application to the state in February, with the ultimate goal of putting a referendum question before local voters in the spring.
The town is vying for state reimbursement dollars for the project, and could receive as much as 50% back for the work.
The project as envisioned by the Building Committee would see students in grades 9-12 move from the Columbia Street school to a renovated and expanded Curtis Corner school building, making it the new site of the high school. The Columbia Street building and associated Hazard building would be “taken offline.”
Students in grades 7 and 8 at Curtis Corner would move into Broad Rock Middle School, joining grade 6. Fifth-graders currently at Broad Rock would go to the four elementary schools.
Also, the South Road School, which is currently not in use, would become the district’s new school administration building.
The elementary schools would receive upgrades to library and media centers and other minor improvements.