East Providence’s school buildings need millions of dollars worth of repairs that have been left slide for years, including life and fire safety needs that must be addressed sooner than later.
Every member of the City Council and School Committee pretty much agreed with that situation at a joint meeting of the two East Providence boards Tuesday night, Sept. 24.
What they didn’t agree on was how to handle the repairs, especially the fire safety needs and the repairs that continue to jeopardize the accreditation of the high school -- already on probation because of the condition of the building.
The only consensus seemed to be that a solid plan of action -- perhaps a repair plan for the next 5 years -- needs to be drafted. And they did seem to agree that they must work together like never before to convince taxpayers that making the repairs is critical to the future health of the city.
“Much of this is up to the voters," said Mayor James Briden. "We don’t want history to repeat itself.”
The boards talked for more than two hours in the Council Chamber in City Hall before adjourning. They plan to meet together again sometime in November. That was really the only decision made at the joint meeting.
Facilities Director Ed Catelli laid out a picture of significant repairs needed in many of the buildings, some of which date back decades.
“We need to spend money on the facilities,” he said. “Some are in a somewhat deplorable state.”
Millions of dollars alone must be spent on the plumbing at the high school, Catelli said. And there have been boiler problems for six years.
School Committee member Timothy Conley said: “Some of these repairs have been kicked down the road for 20 years. Well, we’ve reached the end of the road. We lose the accreditation if we don’t make repairs. That’s reality.”
School Committee Chairman Joel Monteiro said both boards need to agree on their appropriate roles and responsibilities in dealing with this issue.
“We need to come together to do what’s right for education and the city,” Monteiro said. “We need to change the culture of elected officials in this city.”
Briden said he feels most comfortable with a starting point that examines and puts together a 5-year plan.
“We are not going to solve the problem in an initial meeting,” he said. “We need capital planning, which may include a bond. The challenge here is a doable plan.”
School Committee member Anthony Ferreira praised Catelli for stating the truth about the condition of the buildings, which he said have been brushed under the rug for years. He said he was especially concerned about fire safety and suggested using the $750,000 to $1 million that remains in a previous bond issue to make those types of repairs first.
Catelli and Fire Chief Oscar Elmasian both said that some school buildings still need fire alarms, doors and panic hardware that meets state fire codes. Some of the doors are so heavy that kids ages 6 and 7 simply have trouble opening them, said Elmasian.
Doors and panic hardware are Catelli’s top priority, he said.
“Those are things we need to address now,” Elmasian said. “They need to be brought up to code.”
Elmasian asked specifically for the two boards to allow him and Catelli to come up with a plan of action that will pass muster with the state fire board.