Millions more need to improve classrooms at Warwick Vets, Pilgrim

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WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Millions of dollars went into renovating certain parts of Warwick Vets Middle School and Pilgrim High School over the summer as part of the district’s consolidation of its secondary schools.  However, when school started at the end of August, parents and teachers complained about the conditions inside the buildings. Now, the administration tells Eyewitness News voters will need to approve millions more for the district to tackle classroom improvements.

Eyewitness News arranged an exclusive tour of the schools after a video began making the rounds. Complete with Halloween music, it purported to show Warwick’s secondary schools – and Vets in particular – falling apart. Crumbling ceiling tiles and floors, exposed wires, heating problems.

We asked specifically about steam escaping from a boiler into a classroom and were told a repair gave way and that a boiler overhaul is set to go out to bid in March.

IN DEPTH: Warwick School Consolidation »

As for health concerns, we were told that while air quality could be better, no mold has been detected.

“Classroom spaces are horrendous. Kids entered the classroom and were greeted by third world conditions,” said Darlene Netcoh, Warwick Teachers’ Union president.

In fact, the condition of the buildings is often cited as one of the reasons critics oppose the recently approved consolidation of the city’s elementary schools.

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FACT SHEET: What you need to know about elementary consolidation »

However, Warwick School Superintendent Philip Thornton said the classrooms were never part of the consolidation proposal.

He said many people were under the impression the schools “should’ve opened this fall completely brand new,” but added, “that was never part of the conversation.”

Thornton said $3 million was spent on the work over the summer, which concentrated mostly in common areas; new entryways, windows, ceilings, auditoriums, and gym floors. He said renovating the classrooms would be a much bigger project that could require a $90 million bond initiative next fall.

“It’s around $50,000 per classroom for asbestos, flooring, ceiling tiles, everything. That’s $14.5 million. That’s the bond conversation we are talking about,” Thornton said.

He said now that the secondary level consolidation has happened, it’s known which buildings are going to remain in use and which ones need major investments.