WESTERLY — Residents and other community members interested in learning about the development of a proposed school building project or providing input will have two opportunities this week when the School Committee’s Building Subcommittee conducts two public forums — one virtually on Thursday, and one in person on Saturday.

Representatives of JCJ Architecture, the firm that is working with the Building Committee on the project, will present their findings from assessments they conducted in each school building and also discuss current uses of the buildings and the state Department of Education’s standards for school buildings and classroom space.

The meetings, which are intended to be identical, will also include a discussion of the work of project’s educational planner, who has been meeting with district administrators and teachers to understand current pedagogical approaches and how the buildings can be improved to meet both current and future educational needs and teaching styles.

The JCJ Architecture staff will also “test” various potential grade configurations or reconfigurations, said Peter Bachman, a market-sector leader with the firm, during a recent Building Subcommittee meeting. The subcommittee has recommended two potential building proposals as being worthy of additional consideration. Both proposals would involve moving eighth grade students from Westerly Middle School to Babcock Hall.

Ultimately, Bachman said, local officials will have to decide “what are the minimum educational upgrades you are willing to live with and what are the maximum upgrades.”

The recommended projects were greeted with skepticism and criticism at forums conducted in October and since then at Building Subcommittee and School Committee meetings.

“We have heard a lot of concerns from some individuals who have spoken in front of the Building Committee and also in front of the School Committee and we want to make sure we are addressing those things,” said Justin Hopkins, Building Subcommittee chairman, during an interview on Monday.

JCJ will use the input it receives during the forums and its discussions with the Building Subcommittee to soon develop potential building project options.

“The Building Subcommittee made recommendations to use Babcock but there are other models that could be discussed as part of this upcoming forum. From these meetings the architect will go back and put together building options to look at. One will be using Babcock,” Hopkins said.

The Building Committee had hoped to conduct the forums scheduled for this week sooner but Hopkins said a decision was made to wait until an architect was hired.

“I didn’t anticipate it taking this long, but it was important to get the professionals on board. They will make informed recommendations. I’m interested to see what they have to say,” Hopkins said.

Subcommittee members hope to have a new project proposal ready in time for inclusion on the November ballot as a referendum question. The Town Council has imposed a $50 million borrowing cap on the project which has its roots in Vision 2020, a long-range education facilities plan published by the town and school department in 2001.

The plan prompted construction of Westerly Middle School and renovations to Westerly High School. The elementary schools have yet to be addressed. Voters turned down proposed projects that focused primarily on the elementary schools in 2016 and 2019.

The virtual session is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. and can be reached by visiting https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86422940254. Participation will also be possible by calling 888-475 4499 or 877-853-5257. The meeting identification number is 864 2294 0254. The in-person meeting is scheduled for Saturday at 9 a.m. in the Babcock Hall Auditorium at 23 Highland Ave.

Source Google News – Read the original article

Forums seek input from public on revised Westerly school building project – The Westerly Sun

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