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Archive for June, 2007

In case you missed the evening news yesterday, or the ProJo this morning, Mayor Cicilline held a press conference yesterday in which he explained the impact of the recent state budget on the city’s finances.

Here are excerpts, related to education, from the ProJo story in today’s paper. The city “is facing what now appears to be a deficit in excess of $27.5 million on Cicilline’s $625.9-million budget”.

Cicilline blamed the city’s financial situation on the state: in the long term for shifting more of the tax burden from the state to local property taxpayers, and in the short term for failing to increase state aid for education and for rejecting his legislative package that would have allowed targeted fees at the local level.

“The state budget passed last week will have serious consequences for every city and town in Rhode Island,” Cicilline said.

“The state has consistently decreased its share of school costs over the past five years, leaving local property taxpayers to make up the difference,” Cicilline said.

As part of that cutting, the Assembly did not increase state education funding to cities and towns; Providence had been counting on at least a 3-percent increase. That meant another $6 million the city had to make up.

Then, it became clear during city budget deliberations that the School Department had accidentally factored in $2.6 million more in their projections of the city’s education contribution than the city was planning to give — $118 million vs. $115.3 million.

Supt. Donnie Evans acknowledged yesterday that the department is building new budget projections to account for the possibility that it may need to make additional cuts to account for that error. He also said that any cuts the department makes now will be to core services — there’s no fat to trim.

“The School Department’s down to the point where it’s impossible to cut the budget without cutting essential programs,” he said.

The story continues, addressing an issue that has been discussed on this blog before:

But why then, did Providence, with the largest delegation in the state and several powerful state legislators, including the House majority leader and the chairman of the House Finance Committee, strike out at the Assembly?

“I don’t know. Why they failed is unclear to me,” Cicilline said.

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The following has just arrived via email. The potential implications for education budgets are obvious:

MAYOR TO ANNOUNCE STEPS CITY WILL TAKE TO ADDRESS
RAMIFICATIONS OF STATE BUDGET
News conference will be held on Wednesday, June 27 at 1 p.m. in the Mayor’s Office

PROVIDENCE – Mayor David N. Cicilline will announce steps the City of Providence is taking in direct response to the recently passed State Budget which fails to give Rhode Island cities and towns the tools they need to provide property tax relief.

The news conference will be held on Wednesday, June 27 at 1 p.m. in the Mayor’s Office at Providence City Hall.

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The link below is to the official press release (small PDF file) announcing the authorization of the Nathan Bishop renovation. Note that the School Board also authorized construction of a technical education high school.

Press Release

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Last evening, the School Board voted unanimously to approve the Nathan Bishop renovation project. This is a remarkable achievement, considering where we started from more than a year ago.

Many thanks to members of the School Board, Superintendent Evans, Mayor Cicilline, Councilman Cliff Wood, and other officials who have helped to get us to this point.  Thanks also to the Nathan Bishop Committee,  Bill Bryan of Gilbane Construction, Mark Dunham of the PPSD, and, not least of all, the architects of AI3.

Thanks to my dedicated colleagues on the ESPEC steering committee, who have devoted countless hours to this task.

Thanks and congratulations most of all to the many, many of you who attended meetings, wrote emails and letters, and otherwise gave support to creating a great new middle school on the East Side.  You proved that East Siders care deeply about excellent public education and are willing to devote their time and energy to make it happen.

As always, there is more to be done.  Bonds must be issued, and the construction process must be monitored to ensure that the project is fully funded  and faithfully executed.   Design of the  academic program and school management system must also be completed.

For the moment, however, it seems right to simply celebrate the fact that  our community pulled together to produce a shift in public policy and revive public education in this part of Providence.

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We have all had a chance, either in emails, here on the blog, or in person, to hear the recommendation of Ai3 that Nathan Bishop be renovated rather than torn down and rebuilt. The School Board will hear the recommendation at tonight’s meeting at 797 Westminster. You are encouraged to attend that meeting to show your support for Bishop. Public comment (3 minutes per person) is permitted.

Today, I sent an email to the mailing list, detailing the ESPEC steering committee’s response to the proposal. If you didn’t get it, you can read it by clicking “read more” below.

We invite those who cannot attend the Board meeting to post comments on the proposal or the steering committee’s response here.

(more…)

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Last night at King Elementary, Scott Dunlap of Ai3 presented their recommendation for the new Nathan Bishop. We learned that they will be recommending a renovated building, rather than new construction, to the City and School Board. It’s clear that not everyone will agree with this recommendation, but neither would everyone agree with the alternative. At the meeting, I asked if Scott felt that the proposal was consistent with Ai3’s previously stated commitment to produce only designs that promised excellent academic quality. He stated that he felt the renovation was actually superior, weighing all the relevant factors.

ESPEC steering committee member Sam Zurier has provided us with an outstanding detailed and comprehensive summary of last night’s presentation, which you can read below. I encourage you, especially those who attended the meeting, to use the comment feature to let the steering committee, and everyone else, hear your views

The AI3 Presentation- Sam Zurier

On Wednesday, June 20, the architectural firm AI3 made its final community presentation at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School. It developed two final models for the New Nathan Bishop, one based on new construction, and the other on renovation.

A. New Construction

The largest changes came in the new construction model. After reviewing the required academic program in more detail, AI3 concluded that its previous model, presented in April, was missing several key features, such as special education classrooms. Incorporating these additional elements increased the required amount of square footage from around 94,000 to around 112,500, an increase of around 20%. When all of these necessary additions were incorporated, the building size increased as well. More specifically, the preferred new construction design’s classroom wing had to extend in length by approximately 50 feet along its east-west axis. This caused the footprint of the New Nathan Bishop to extend further towards both Taber Avenue and Elmgrove Avenue, a change that was not desirable for the school’s neighbors. At this point, AI3 returned to an earlier design that had a footprint that did not extend beyond the dimensions of the current building. That design did not incorporate a classroom wing along a single axis; instead, it had a “doughnut” floor plan where the classrooms were arranged in a rectangular perimeter around common areas and/or a courtyard, similar to the layout of the current Nathan Bishop.

AI3 estimates the cost of a new building at $38.3 million. This figure exceeds DeJong’s prior “new construction” estimate by around $15 million for several reasons, including (a) the increase of 20% in square footage, (b) three years’ inflation in construction costs, and ( c) AI3’s inclusion of site preparation costs in its current estimate, an item not included in the DeJong figures. AI3 also indicated that a Fall, 2009 opening of a newly constructed school was very possible, but subject to slippage because of anticipated opposition by historical preservation groups. In this regard, AI3 stated that the reversion to a “doughnut” floor plan for new construction reduced its ability to argue to the State Historical Preservation Commission that a new building was necessary for educational reasons.

AI3’s previous proposal for new construction had a constraint for which AI3 was unable to find a good solution. More specifically, the regulations of the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) do not support funding for an extra common space to hold an auditorium. The new RIDE regulations are even less generous in this regard. As a result, the new construction model incorporates a “cafetorium” that does not provide the best possible space for the performing arts.

B. Renovation

AI3 also tweaked its renovation alternative, based upon several favorable changes that had been revealed from further research. Those changes included the following:

1. A closer review of the building’s dimensions revealed that the previous 155,000 square foot interior area estimate was overstated, largely due to a review of the basement floorspace. The correct figure is closer to 144,000 square feet. This results in a reduced cost of construction and permits the entire building to be retained without demolition. The latest renovation design contemplates 131,000 square feet of “learning space” and 13,000 square feet of storage space which will involve significantly less construction cost.

2. The closer review also revealed certain desirable features of the original design that had been abandoned in subsequent years but were valuable to restore. Many were related to systems that permitted greater natural light to enter the building through skylights over the staircases, the auditorium and other areas. In later years, these light sources had been blocked off for such issues as fire protection; however, AI3 developed other methods to address these concerns while permitting the restoration of the original design to capture more daylight.

3. Changes in the RIDE regulations create new incentives to retain original construction. For example, the regulations will authorize State funding for a larger volume of square feet for a given number of students, if the project involves renovation, perhaps recognizing that this flexibility is necessary if existing buildings are to be adapted to new needs. More specifically, AI3 believes that it can persuade RIDE to provide funding for 133,000 square feet of renovation, providing an additional 20,000+ square feet over the permitted size for new construction. This additional square footage can support the retention of the existing auditorium, additional rooms for teacher planning, “float” classrooms and other support functions, and the wider hallways that the current building features.

4. The final renovation design solves some identified problems and fails to solve others. The new plan for the library/media center places it on the second floor, increasing travel time for some students. AI3 made this space more attractive, however, by opening up the floor above to create an atrium-like area. On the other hand, there is no solution for the problem with the gymnasium. The renovation would continue to have two separate gyms, each of around 3,000 square feet. This compares to a standard (or generously sized) middle school gymnasium size of 6,000 square feet. The dual gym is adequate for instructional purposes, as current physical education instruction often involves dividing a full sized gymnasium into two learning units. It retains obvious disadvantages concerning community use and/or some sports options, such as full-court basketball.

5. The final renovation design can support current educational practices by having a version of the “pods” concept. Each floor of the renovated building will have ten classrooms. These ten classrooms will support two “teams” of 100 students each, organized around a cluster of five classrooms with an associated “team” of teachers. Each of the building’s three floors will hold one grade’s worth of students, divided into two “teams” of 100, resulting in 200 students in each grade, and a total of 600 students in the school. This package will reduce significantly the time that students spend traveling from one class to another. There will be somewhat greater travel time to non-academic activities, such as gym, lunch, certain special classes, and so forth.

6. The cost of a renovated school is $40.2 million. This cost includes site work and a complete renovation in which “all surfaces are touched.” This would include, for example, restoration of marble and brass surfaces in the office area, replacement of all windows and a cleaning and repointing of the brick exterior.

7. Because of the bias supporting renovation in the RIDE regulations and the absence of opposition from the Providence Preservation Society, the opening date of Fall, 2009 is more secure.

Comparing the two alternatives, AI3 recommends the renovation alternative for the following reasons:

a. More floor space for extra classrooms and school areas.

b. Better auditorium.

c. More security about opening in the fall of 2009.

d. Cost difference of $1.9 million is only 5%, and therefore not a critical factor.

e. “Green building” concerns are a wash, as renovation has advantages in conservation of materials, while new construction would save $50,000 per year in energy costs.

f. Loss of quality gymnasium does not affect academic program requirements, and is outweighed by addition of high quality auditorium.

AI3 will present its recommendation to the School Board when the Board meets on Monday night, June 25.

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You may have read in the ProJo this morning that there a several pieces of legislation pending in the General Assembly that would allow cities and towns to collect various user fees and
taxes.

The good news is that these funds could be used to plug the hole in education funding that was created when the G.A. denied the proposed just-better-than-inflation 3% increase.

The bad news is that these “back door” measures force local authorities to raise fees and taxes to fund our schools, and allow the General Assembly to pass on political responsibility, rather than forthrightly supporting education.

Councilman Cliff Wood has passed along a summary of this legislation, which I am happy to post

Relief Package for Cities & Towns

Why…

o A growing federal and state deficit has been shifted a growing burden down to cities & towns, and property tax payers are stretched to the limit.

o When we don’t absolutely have to rely on the property tax, we shouldn’t — That is the guiding principle of this package.

This legislation…

1. Takes burden of certain services off property tax payers & ties directly to use so everyone pays fair share

o Fire Alarm Master Box Legislation – private firms and tax-exempt institutions would bear the expense of maintaining of private alarm equipment, rather than current practice of passing costs to property tax payers.
o Prohibiting Fire Hydrant Rental Fees – currently, property tax payers bear the cost of fire hydrant rental, while some of the largest water consumers are tax-exempt institutions like hospitals and universities. This legislation ensures that the costs are shouldered more broadly and fairly.

2. Captures fee that is national standard for use of public right-of-way

o Cable Franchise Fee – Rhode Island would join 48 other states in charging cable companies a modest fee for their use of public right-of-way. The timing is right for this fee with increased competition in the market, which will increase use of the public right-of-way and should lower costs to customers.

3. Updates conveyances fees in line with increasing costs

o Real Estate Conveyance Fee – This updates the conveyance fee and allows Rhode Island cities & towns to be compensated for increasing costs associated with real estate transactions.

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