State’s aging school buildings, excess capacity proving costly
UPGRADING RHODE ISLAND'S aging public school buildings could cost the state $1.79 billion, the R.I. Department of Education said Tuesday in a presentation to the Senate Task Force for School Housing Aid. Above, a map depicting the cost per square foot to upgrade buildings in different areas of the state to 1.0 or "good" condition, at which point they would require only routine maintenance and minor repairs.
COURTESY R.I. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
By Patricia Daddona PBN Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE – In the face of declining enrollment, Rhode Island’s aging school buildings are costing the state a lot of money to maintain, and could cost even more to fix, state education officials told lawmakers Tuesday.
Upgrading all the state’s public school buildings to “good” condition, at which point they would require only routine maintenance and minor repairs, could cost $1.79 billion, the R.I. Department of Education said Tuesday.
At the same time, RIDE projected that by 2016-17, unused space could total 16 percent or more in 25 of the state’s 36 school districts. The state is already spending an estimated $21.5 million a year to maintain excess capacity, using 2012 square footage estimates, RIDE said.
Joseph Da Silva, a RIDE school construction specialist, presented the data in a PowerPoint presentation titled “Public Schoolhouse Assessment” to the Senate Task Force for School Housing Aid at the Capitol, RIDE said.
Three years ago, lawmakers put a moratorium on school building spending and allowed only spending on safety issues and immediate needs. That 2011 moratorium is set to expire on June 30, said state Sen. Ryan Pearson, D-Cumberland, the task force chairman.
RIDE has “better defined the situation,” said Pearson Wednesday. “They’ve given us an overview of the history of the statute and the impact of the moratorium, and in a data-driven way, they’ve identified the size of the problem: $1.79 billion worth of work.”
Seventy percent of the state’s school buildings were built between 25 and 75 years ago, the report stated. In all but seven districts, enrollment is projected to decline over the next five years, with double-digit declines expected in 12 districts. Excess capacity is most likely to increase over the next 10 years at the middle school level, the report said.
In 2011-12, districts reported a combined 31,240 excess seats, the report found.
The report projected excess capacity for the 2016-17 school year at 28 percent in suburban schools, with an annual associated price tag of $14 million. In urban and “urban ring” districts, RIDE put the excess capacity at 6 percent and 25 percent respectively, with associated costs of $2 million and $8 million a year.
The “urban ring” districts include Cranston, East Providence, Johnston, Newport, North Providence, Warwick and West Warwick.
The data for Tuesday’s presentation was culled from an April 2013 report that also included recommendations for closure and consolidation, regionalization, grade reconfiguration and economic measures such as energy efficiency, asset-protection plans and savings during design and construction.
The information in the report will help lawmakers start to discuss how the school buildings condition may affect property values and the underlying economy, and determine whether to lift the moratorium, Pearson said.
“The investment [for corrective action] is very high over a period of years,” Pearson said. “There’s the obvious return on that investment of increased student achievement and more modern, safe schools, but what we really need to look at is what is the return on investment in increasing property values and the effect on the economy.”