The old St. Joseph’s Hospital building will be demolished in the next phase of Prov. school building

PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – Parts of the old St. Joseph’s Hospital given to the city of Providence to be used as a school will be demolished to build a brand new school in its place, according to city and state officials. school.

The original idea was to spend around $75 million to renovate the closed eight-story hospital, which has been vacant for years. But the state- and city-run school district — which still controls Providence’s physical school buildings — determined it was more cost-effective to tear it down and build it from the ground up, according to the spokeswoman for the city. city, Theresa Agonia.

The cost to build the bilingual school at 21 Peace St. in South Providence is now pegged at $85 million. But engineers hired by the district in recent weeks determined that the cost of retrofitting existing hospital buildings would be $91 million, higher than initial estimates.

The new school, planned to accommodate 900 students from kindergarten to grade 8, is one of five projects submitted last week in a 2,500-page application to the RI Department of Education. Construction of the school is funded in part using a $140 million bond approved by Providence voters in 2020.

Engineers who inspected the property reported that the hospital was structurally sound, but that a “steel frame system encased in concrete” would make it difficult and expensive to demolish parts of the interior, which would have been needed to reconfigure hospital rooms into larger classrooms.

No date has been set for the destruction of the old hospital, and the city does not yet own the donated buildings.

Real estate developer Joe Paolino — the former mayor of Providence who bought the vacant hospital in 2016 — signed a donation agreement in August 2020 to give the city the East Building, chapel and land for parking and a recreation area. In exchange, the city agreed to drop a dispute with Paolino over taxes owed on the property which was the subject of a legal complaint.

Paolino retains ownership of certain sections of the hospital campus, including the West Building which currently houses an urgent care center. Paolino wants to turn this building into a charter school in the future.

The donation agreement was due to be completed in December 2020 for the buildings and June 30, 2021 for the other plots, according to a copy of the agreement.

Agonia said the city is waiting to complete the title transfer after final state approval of the plan to build the new school.

A PPSD rendering of future elementary and middle school buildings on Peace Street.

The new school is currently expected to be completed in time for students to attend in the fall of 2025.

The construction of a brand new school where the hospital is currently located is part of the next phase of Providence’s school building plan, known as Phase II, which is expected to be approved by the State Board on primary and secondary education in May.

A number of school buildings in Providence — some of which were built in the early 1900s — have long been in disrepair, a problem documented in both the 2017 Jacobs Report and the 2019 Johns Hopkins Report. took over the district in late 2019, Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said some schools will be repaired while other buildings may close to make way for new construction.

“I grew up in crumbling school buildings in Providence,” Acting Superintendent Javier Montañez said earlier this month at a city council finance meeting. “And when I came back as an educator, I found these buildings had the exact same problems decades later.”

This second phase of construction is expected to result in several “like new” school buildings, in addition to the new building on Peace Street, which will use the bulk of the $140 million bond.

A new Spaziano Middle School will be built in the existing Spaziano Elementary School, at a cost of $27 million, depending on demand. Three elementary schools – Veazie Street, Mary Fogarty and Harry Kizirian – are also set to undergo “like new” renovations. (The plan is already $52 million over budget, the app acknowledges.)

But first, the district will need to complete the renovation of the vacant former schoolhouse on Windmill Street — recently renamed the Narducci Learning Center — for use as transitional space for students.

This will allow Veazie Street pupils to learn in Windmill when their school is under construction in 2025, the documents say. Fogarty students would go to the new Peace Street School at the old St. Joseph’s Hospital, and Kizirian students would go to Windmill in 2026 while their school is being renovated.

“It allows us to do transformational work,” Deputy Superintendent Zack Scott told the finance committee. “It’s not just about roofs, walls and boilers. These are new building spaces that we know our community has sought out.

These “dramatic” renovations will include building drop-in centers and collaborative spaces for students and teachers, Scott said.

The brand new Peace Street School will likely cause one or more older schools to close in order to move its students and teachers to the new building, according to plans. Since the new school is initially used as a transitional space, it is not yet clear which schools could move there permanently; the new school is expected to serve South Providence students.

The five projects included in the second phase of Providence’s school construction plan. Providence voters approved a $140 million loan in 2020.

The updated list of Phase II projects has been reduced from the original plan. A previous 2020 list — before voters approved funding — included a new K-8 school where Carl G. Lauro Elementary School now stands, but such a project was not included in the final application. . The final application includes five schools, while the initial draft plan had eight.

Providence voters also approved a $160 million bond in 2018 for Phase I, which is still ongoing and expected to be completed next summer. This phase includes the $30 million renovation of Windmill as well as renovations to Classical High School, Pleasant View Elementary School, Hope High School and William D’Abate Elementary School.

Stage I also includes the destruction of the Spaziano Annex to build an all-new K-5 school. The new Spaziano Middle School for grades 6-8, part of Phase II, will then be built inside the existing Spaziano Elementary School building.

Between the two phases, Scott said a third of students in Providence will learn in a “fundamentally transformed” school building.

Yet more buildings beyond those in the plan are in need of major rehabilitation. The RIDE application says the city cannot apply for more bonds until 2029, although it can apply for public funds through the School Building Authority.

The district is factoring declining enrollment into its future plans, according to the application. Presentations from school officials indicate that college enrollment in particular is expected to decline, which could lead to a college closing or moving to a K-8 school in the future.

In addition to large construction projects, the school district is also proposing to create a new “revolving capital fund” to pay for smaller projects, including HVAC upgrades, water coolers and boiler replacements.

If approved by city council, the fund will initially receive an injection of $3 million from the city and $5 million from the school department’s surplus realized in last year’s budget.

The city’s $3 million would come from additional funds called “bond bonuses” earned when the city closed the 2018 school bond last spring, according to Agonia.

Each project financed by the revolving fund would be reimbursed by the State at 91%, and the reimbursed funds would return to the fund. District officials say this strategy means the initial $8 million investment will fund $54 million in projects without requiring more city taxpayer dollars.

Proposed projects for the new school capital working fund.

The proposal to create the working fund was presented to city council last week and referred to the finance committee.

Steph Machado ([email protected]) is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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