September 24, 2008

Shuttered School Will Stay That Way

By Paul Davis

Citing an expected decline in enrollment, the School Committee decides that Wickford Elementary School will not reopen.

NORTH KINGSTOWN -- After months of debate, the School Committee last night said Wickford Elementary School will not reopen as a school -- at least in the near future.

The reason? Declining enrollment. In the next five years, the district expects to see 356 fewer students.

Although officials are considering reconfiguring the district, Wickford Elementary won't be needed under that plan, interim Supt. Philip D. Thornton said last night.

School officials were expected to vote on a statement last night, but by 10:15 were still discussing the wording.

It's still unclear if the School Department or the town will take charge of the building, or what the structure might be used for.

The School Committee and the Town Council are scheduled to meet next month to discuss the future of Wickford Elementary, consolidation and other issues.

Earlier last night, Committee Vice Chairman Larry Ceresi recommended that the school board ask the town to spend $85,000 to help repair the aging building, which was closed in 2005.

Under the proposal, the town would use its capital reserves or other money to pay $65,000 for a new boiler and $20,000 for roof work.

The repairs are needed before the winter, Ceresi said.

School officials agreed they have little money left in their own capital reserve -- less than $1 million.

And other schools need repairs, too, they said.

Committee members Melvoid Benson and Douglas Roth both endorsed Ceresi's proposal.

"This is very forward thinking," Benson said.

"This is a positive step forward," added Roth.

But committee members balked at a suggestion by Roth that the town take over the building during the next fiscal year.

Also, Committee Chairwoman Janice DeFrances said the board had not yet fully explored other options for the building.

Several months ago she suggested it be used as a special- education center.

"I'm not sure we've had enough discussions about other uses for this building," she said.

Not matter what school and town officials decide, the building cannot be sold without taxpayer approval, Ceresi said.

Also, it can't be leased for more than five years without voter approval, he said.

Richard Welch, the head of the Asset Management Commission, has suggested the school be used as a new Town Hall.

The Wickford School was built in 1907, on the site of the former Wickford Academy, which operated in the 1800s.

Committee member April Brunelle, who opposed closing the school three years ago, said she was resigned to the fact that it probably won't be reopened as an elementary school.

But, she added, "I believe we closed the wrong school. We made a huge mistake," she said.


Kingstown [email protected] / (401) 277-7402

Originally published by Paul Davis, Journal Staff Writer.

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