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School committee to vote on fate of Halliwell Elementary

March 9, 2013

NORTH SMITHFIELD — The School Committee could decide the fate of the Dr. Harry Halliwell Memorial Elementary School as early as its March 19 meeting when the panel meets to possibly vote on a plan of action to address the deteriorating school building.
The meeting comes two weeks after the committee hosted a special public meeting to give residents a chance to offer input on the recommendations proposed in a report by the School Buildings Task Force, which went to work three years ago to address school buildings needs, including options for the Halliwell school.
At its meeting on March 19, the School Committee is slated to take a vote on the recommendations, which are outlined in the task force's final facility assessment and grade configuration options report released last August and presented at a joint meeting of the School Committee and Town Council that same month.
In its report, the task force recommends monitoring enrollment as recommended by the NESDEC; and to consider a long-term recommendation that was first proposed in the 2004 master plan, which is to consider the possibility of a newer and smaller elementary school to replace Halliwell.
If the town feels that a construction bond is not feasible, the task force recommends in its report that an alternate proposal to decommission the Halliwell school and move Grades 3-4 to the North Smithfield Elementary School and Grade 5 to the Middle School be considered. That alternate proposal also includes a recommendation to add four modular classrooms to the North Smithfield Elementary School to support the addition of Grade 4.
After the School Committee votes on the Halliwell issue, the Town Council is expected to hold its own public hearing on the matter.
The School Buildings Task Force was established by the Town Council in 2009 and was given several objectives, including evaluating and reviewing reports by the New England School Development Council (NESDEC) as well as a comprehansive school faciltiies master plan drafted in 2004; coming up with proposed options regarding the Halliwell school; and determining the next phase of the town's school buildings needs.
The town and the School Department have been tackling school building needs and space shortfalls since 2004 when the Town Council appointed a School Facilities Planning Task Force Committee. The mission of that panel was to develop an objective comprehensive study of school educational and support needs with long-term recommendations. Working with the task force was the team of Robinson Green Beretta & Gilbane Co., which assisted the task force in analyzing the district’s existing school facilities and developing a plan to support the educational program requirements of the district well into the future.
In August of 2004, the task force drafted a comprehensive school facilities master plan, which investigated all four existing school facilities within the district; detailed the programmatic needs of each; estimated costs of meeting those needs; and developed a practical phased plan of action.
In March 2006, the Town Council and the School Committee voted to support the first phase of that action plan, which was to construct a new middle school. The question was later put to voters and in 2008 the new Middle School opened on time and under budget.
At issue now is the Halliwell Memorial Elementary School on Victory Highway in Slatersville. The school was constructed back in 1957 at a cost of approximately $550,000. Since then, the facility has not seen any renovations other than necessary repairs.
jfitzgerald@woonsocketcall.com

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