SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — A special workshop is planned this Saturday for the public to weigh in on the potential redevelopment of the South Kingstown High School property on Columbia Street.
The town has scheduled its Community Visioning Workshop to take place from 1 to 3 p.m. Feb. 22 at the South Kingstown High School cafeteria.
The event will include a moderated panel discussion with Superintendent of Schools Linda Savastano, Town Manager Rob Zarnetske, plus the town engineer and town solicitor. The panel will be followed by interactive small group discussions to identify priorities for the property’s reuse.
Town officials and residents have offered ideas for the site to potentially be redeveloped. Some have suggested affordable housing or residences for senior citizens could be put on the property, with the town able to offer incentives such as tax abatements to a developer.
But there are no firm plans for the site, and officials hope to take the pulse of the community about possible options.
“The offloading of this site has been mentioned in several meetings and several different environments,” School Committee member Michelle Brousseau said. “But I haven’t seen a plan. I haven’t heard ideas about how that could be done, and at the same time I refer back to the Jacobs Report, which of all our buildings, said this one was in the best shape.”
Officials are in the early stages of envisioning what would become of the current high school building at 215 Columbia St. if the town ultimately follows a path that would move students into an expanded Curtis Corner Middle School.
An estimated $85 million in school improvement projects are on the table for South Kingstown, including up to $62 million in spending on the high school.
At its Jan. 28 meeting, the School Committee voted 6-0 to move forward with a Stage 2 Necessity of Construction application to the Rhode Island Department of Education, using Curtis Corner as the high school location.
The work would involve renovating and expanding Curtis Corner to house the high school, with students currently at Curtis Corner moving into an enlarged Broad Rock Middle School.
Should that happen, the town then would be responsible for disposing of the Columbia Street property.
Zarnetske has said that trying to dispose of the empty 230,000 square-foot high school building would be viewed as having a negative value. Developers would see the cost of renovating or rebuilding on the site and not give the town money for the empty structure, he said.
Concerns about funding the work are on the minds of School Committee members as well.
“I have nightmares about starting the project, getting too far in to back out and not having enough money to finish it,” Brousseau said. “Then, nobody’s going to choose South Kingstown.”
The School Committee also voted Jan. 28 to recommend to the Building Committee that a bond for the work be put on the November 2020 ballot.
The school department is planning to ask for a 2 percent budget increase this year, and some committee members expressed concern about putting a bond question before taxpayers later in the year. Ultimately, the Town Council will decide if a bond is put on the November ballot.