Letter: We’ve Delayed these Projects Long Enough
The following letter was written by North Kingstown resident and school committee member Tom Briody and may be read online and in the October 5 newspaper.
I am voting YES on the school and public safety bond referendum on November 7. I have three major reasons why.
First, the Rhode Island Department of Education is pushing communities to build new schools. RIDE does not expect our community to do this on our own; it is offering substantial financial incentives — reimbursements — for cities and towns that invest in new schools. It is also sweetening those incentives if communities act NOW. If plans are conceived and contracts signed and construction begun by June 30, 2024, we can actually be reimbursed more than fifty percent of the cost of construction.
Second, our middle schools are old and tired. I toured both schools when I was first elected to the School Committee last December. Davisville was constructed in 1967. It shows its age. Wickford Middle School was built in 1932. It needs near constant maintenance and repair. This deterioration has happened over many, many years.
If we try to recondition what we have, we won’t be reimbursed by the state. That means we are throwing money at aging schools, knowing that they will eventually have to be replaced, and almost certainly at a higher price than we would pay now.
What’s more, all the schools in North Kingstown need new roofs, including the high school. We must protect what we have. For too many years we have not kept up our buildings. I suspect the same people who oppose the bond today were opposed to bonds in the past. And those same people tend to oppose any effort to spend money to care for what we have. Maintaining our schools takes money and commitment.
Problems with our school infrastructure are not new. I have reviewed a report where RIDE identified deficiencies at Wickford Middle School as far back as 2016. Both the Town Council and School Committee debated these issues in 2019. I am confident that the problems are actually much older. But there has been no new construction here since our high school in 2001. Critics claim the town is “rushing” the school project. That’s just not true. But we should respond to the financial incentives offered for new construction.
We have great architects with an excellent plan for a new, 21st century school. We pride ourselves in North Kingstown on outstanding public education. Newer, modern schools are good for students. Newer, modern schools attract parents seeking to purchase a home. Newer, modern, well-run schools increase property values. A newer, modern middle school is good for North Kingstown’s economy.
Third, don’t overlook the need for a new public safety complex. Parts of the current building are crumbling. Our firefighters do not have room in their garages for modern fire trucks. I visit our current fire and police headquarters several times a month. As a justice of the peace, I have conducted arraignments and bail hearings for individuals arrested by the North Kingstown Police. Their offices are dank, largely windowless and out of date. First responders are not asking for luxury, but they deserve a decent building that permits them to do their jobs effectively.
My children are grown. I am sensitive to concerns about our taxes, and like many people my age, I worry about how long I can continue to live here. But this isn’t about me. It’s about this community. It’s about progress. Many of those who oppose this bond overlook this simple truth.
I also wish we could have two middle schools. But we can’t afford it. And waiting another year (or several years) is just going to cost more money in the future. We are in this situation because we have waited too long. Our town needs to move forward. It’s time to act.
For me, voting YES to the school and public safety bond means voting to improve our community. I hope you agree. And I hope you vote on November 7.
Thomas G. Briody