NEWPORT -- When the new Claiborne d. Pell Elementary School opens in the fall of 2013, for the first time in memory, Newport’s entire elementary population will be housed under one roof; the four remaining elementary school buildings shuttered and presumably put on the auction block.
But what if Newport's school age population rises?
City Councilors and School Committee members discussed just that during a recent meeting of the Newport School Committee and City Council Liaison Subcommittee on Wednesday, April 11.
Though it's still months before any action is taken on the properties, according to City Manager Jane Howington, she and Supt. John H. Ambrogi have already begun planning for the eventual disposition of the schools.
To that end, Howington explained that upon examining the four closed schools, “[the city] does an assessment on the possible reuses of the buildings, which may shed some light on what buildings are more marketable, or which buildings would bring in a greater amount of revenue … which would help inform [the school department] which one would be best to keep.”
One of those options, according to Ambrogi and school committee member Robert Leary, should include the school department keeping at least one of the school buildings for future use.
When the Sullivan School was demolished to clear the site for the future Pell School, all students were moved to the Triplett School on Broadway for the interim. However, before the students and teachers from Sullivan could relocate, it meant moving the existing Aquidneck Island Adult Learning Center from Triplett out to the Kennedy School Annex in Middletown.
If the school department were to keep one of the school buildings, Leary pointed out that the adult education program would be able to come back into Newport.
Another reason the school department would need to keep a building is for the possibility of another surge in student enrollment. Such a scenario is not without precedent.
As recently as last month, the School Committee voted to construct two additional classrooms at the Pell School after it was revealed that a bump in Newport’s student population put the school on the brink of being undersized.
Adding to the enrollment issue, Leary pointed out that a fenced-off area in the city’s north end is the future site of a new public housing development that would potentially bring in many families and children.“This is going to be one of the big issues coming up in the next election,” Leary said, regarding how many schools, and which ones, the school department should keep.
City Councilor Naomi Neville confirmed there will be future housing developments in the north end, saying, “They will build it as some point. It’s always been known, so those [enrollment] numbers should be accounted for. That housing has always been planned.”
Adding to concerns, it was also noted that the capacity of the Pell School was decided during a time when the general enrollment in Newport’s schools were on the decline, a trend that was reversed this past summer when a late jolt in enrollment came as a surprise to the school department.
“The question is whether or not the information we got during the [planning] process was the information that ultimately comes to reality a couple years from now,” Ambrogi said. “The need to keep at least one of the schools for a number of different reasons might be something the school committee may want to do.”