Johnston School Committee and City Council meet to discuss school projects

By RORY SCHULER

The Johnston School Committee and City Council have planned to hold a pair of special meetings, in joint session, on the evenings of Wednesday March 16 and Wednesday March 23 to discuss school building plans.

City voters are expected to vote in a bond referendum, deciding whether to fund a $215 million school facility renovation.

The councils announced the meetings late last week.

In February, Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee joined city officials and school administrators in the basement of Johnston’s oldest school, Thornton Elementary, to solemnly sign the bill allowing Johnston to call for a bond referendum.

The referendum is scheduled for April 5.

The district plans to build a new early years center and elementary school, and make major renovations to Nicholas A. Ferri Middle School and Johnston High School, if voters approve bond funding .

Thornton Elementary was originally erected in 1890, but burned down in 1919. The building was rebuilt in its present location at 4 School Street in 1920 and opened to Johnston students in 1921.

Graniteville Elementary was built in 1930, 90 years ago. Brown Avenue Elementary was built in 1934, 87 years ago. Winsor Hill and Barnes Elementary Schools were built in 1953, 68 years ago.

Nicholas A. Ferri Middle School was built in 1960 (61 years ago) and Johnston Senior High was built in 1968 (53 years ago).

“They’re just old,” Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena said. “You can’t put that much caulking around the windows.”

Johnston State Senator Frank Lombardo III (District 25) and State Representative Deb Fellela (District 43) both received ceremonial copies of the bond legislation.

“This school bond bill came to fruition when I received a resolution from the board in which the superintendent and the school committee had met with myself and Senator Lombardo to explain to us the purpose of this legislation,” Fellela said. “After hearing their thoughts, Senator Lombardo and I had our bills drafted.”

Polisena and Johnston School Superintendent Dr. Bernard DiLullo Jr. testified in person before the state finance committee.

“The following week, the committee voted to approve the bill and it went to a full vote, where it was unanimously supported by the house,” Fellela said.

The city expects to get more than 50% state reimbursement for the massive construction project.

School planners hope to build a fifth-grade academy, attached to the newly renovated middle school.

Small elementary schools in the neighborhood will close and students will be moved to a citywide elementary center. If the bond passes, municipal authorities will hold discussions to determine the fate of the buildings.

The school board voted last month to “authorize Colliers International to prepare a tender and tender for the Director of Construction at Risk for school construction projects approved by the Department of Education of the Rhode Island”.

In October, the school board voted to retain the architectural firm SLAM Collaborative to move the district into Phase III of the school construction process. At its December 21 meeting, the Johnston School Committee passed a resolution supporting the $215 million bond.

The new CEC will cost approximately $28,600,000 and is tentatively scheduled to open in the summer of 2024.

Plans call for the closure and then demolition or sale of all of the city’s current elementary schools – Annex ECC in Graniteville, Barnes, Brown Avenue, Thornton and Winsor Hill.

The large new consolidated elementary school will be built to educate 1,100 students in grades 1-4 and is expected to be built on city property just north of Johnston High School.

The elementary school will cost around $84,350,000 and is tentatively expected to open in late summer 2024.

The district will likely tackle the new CPE and elementary school first, then move on to the high school renovation, then the middle school project, according to DiLullo.

SLAM proposed more than $39 million in renovations at Ferri Middle School and a $57 million facelift at the high school.

The high school is slated for an unveiling in late summer 2024, and middle school repairs are expected to be complete by late summer 2025.

The two Wednesday evening meetings are scheduled for 6:00 p.m. in the auditorium at Johnston High School (March 16 and March 23).

Both the March 16 and March 23 agendas contain a single presentation item: “SLAM and Colliers Project Managers: presentation/discussion of proposed new school construction projects and existing school renovations”.