By Meg O’Neil
NEWPORT -- When the Claiborne d. Pell Elementary School opens its doors in Newport’s north end in the fall of 2013, it won’t be the only new school building in the city. Half a mile down the road, a brand-new, state-of-the-art, $8.8-million facility will be opening for high school students at the Paul W. Crowley East Bay Met School.
Currently housed in the Florence M. Gray Center, the Met School offers a unique approach to education, where students work with individualized, tailored curriculums that connect to real world, hands-on learning experiences.
Plans for the new project were unveiled by Joseph DaSilva from the Rhode Island Department of Education and former Met School principal Charlie Plant at the Newport Housing Authority’s March meeting.
During the meeting, DaSilva said construction will occur approximately 20-feet from the school’s current location, nestling into the natural slope of the site. By not exporting any soil from the area, DaSilva said raising the site would provide panoramic views of the north end’s waterfront. The orientation of the building will also allow maximum shade in the spring and summer months, while reaping sunshine exposure in the winter.
To give the school design a personalized feel, DaSilva explained that students and staff from the Met School were interviewed to provide, what he called, an “enormous” amount of feedback on what they would like to see in the building.
One element of the construction process is the aim to build a nearly completely “green” school. In what DaSilva called a “very aggressive approach,” he said the new East Bay Met will attempt to be, “the most sustainable green building – not only in Newport, or Rhode Island – but potentially in all of New England and the whole east coast.”
With room provided for a community garden, DaSilva said additional items on the school’s “wish list” include photovoltaics on the roof and vertical wind turbines which will help the school reach the ultimate goal of being considered a “Net Zero” school; meaning any energy that the school uses will be harvested onsite and will not rely external energies from the grid.
A balcony with a vegetative roof is also being sought to teach students the benefits of planting. On the northeastern side of the property, DaSilva explained the school hopes to incorporate an amphitheater for theatrical outdoor events. “We’re really proud of what we’re trying to do here,” he added.
With one of the highest college acceptance and retention rates of any high school in the state, Plant said the facility will only strengthen the Met’s academics and referred to the new building as a “real star in the north end of Newport.”
Eventually housing an expected total capacity of 130-students from grades 9 – 12, a contracting group has yet to be hired to start the construction process, DaSilva said. He added, “It’s an aggressive timeline … but we are hoping for a groundbreaking this summer and an opening in September 2013.”
According to RIDE’s executive assistant for communications, Elliot Krieger, the $8.8-million price tag is provided through state funding and covers both the cost of the construction project and acquisition of the site.
With experts calling for a shift in the country’s education system to sway in a more technological direction, Plant said the new facility will be able to gear students towards the job force of the future, saying, “This school is being envisioned as an integral, educational opportunity in and of itself … there’s a space built in there for a hands-on technological area, designed to be a totally digital-literate school so when kids [graduate], they’ve got the digital skill to succeed in any area.”
Members of the Newport Housing Authority lauded the presentation, including NHA Chairman Frank Landry who said, “One thing that jumps out at me is seeing Paul Crowley’s name on there. He would be totally blown away by this structure. To have two beautiful new schools within half a mile of each other – I don’t think the north end will ever be the same.”