School building sub-committee plans public forums in early February to discuss projects | Daily news alerts


WEST — The architectural firm working on a school building project is nearing completion of a report on existing conditions and plans to meet with administrators and possibly students next week.

These meetings will allow representatives of the firm JCJ Architecture to better understand the needs of schools as well as the information and data developed during previous projects. Voters rejected proposed projects in 2016 and 2019. Members of the school board‘s school construction subcommittee hope to have a new project proposal ready in time to be included in the November ballot as a referendum question.

“We need to understand the information you have already gathered and discussed and what has been concluded. It is essential for us to build on the work you have already done,” said Christine O’Hare, senior project manager at JCJ Architecture, said at a subcommittee meeting on Wednesday.

An education planner who works with JCJ Architecture is also working on the conditions report, O’Hare said.

The subcommittee hopes to hold two public forums in early February to review the education plan that will serve as the basis for the project. The forums will also include a discussion on configuring grades. The two projects selected by the subcommittee for further scrutiny both involve moving eighth graders from Westerly Middle School to an academy at Westerly High School‘s Babcock Hall. Both projects also include closing State Street School for students. One plan would use part of State Street School for administrative offices.

The forums, said building subcommittee chairman Justin Hopkins, will give residents and parents a chance to pitch their ideas on tier layouts and share ideas for potential projects. A final plan will likely take place in late spring or early summer and then appear on the ballot, Hopkins said.

Although the process will build on some of the information and findings developed during previous projects, there will also be new aspects. For example, Joseph DeSantis of Downes Construction, the firm working as the owner’s project manager, said the COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread design changes. Where offices previously relied on open spaces separated by cubicles, the pandemic is making individual offices a more desirable approach, DeSantis said.

Similarly, he said, windows that do not open have become the most common approach in school construction, but the pandemic has created a need for windows that open and close to provide fresh air circulation.

Bradford resident William Aiello reiterated his request for the sub-committee to consider involving the former Bradford Primary School building in the project. The building was taken offline as a school in the spring of 2017, and the city council recently discussed selling the building and surrounding property.

The school department facilities manager has requested permission to work with Downes Construction to assess a proposed tiling and asbestos removal project in the gymnasiums at Dunn’s Corners School and State Street School. Pagano said the work was estimated at $157,968, but bids were for $247,000. Hopkins, who works as an architect, said price increases are affecting projects across the region.

“The market is quite choppy. Almost every project in our office is experiencing supply chain issues or cost escalation. It’s pervasive in the market. We’re hoping to see some stabilization soon,” Hopkins said.

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