CENTRAL FALLS – The city’s high school, the oldest in Rhode Island, has been showing its age for many years.
Mayor Maria Rivera, who graduated from Central Falls High School in 1995, recalled to Providence Business News on Wednesday that the school – first built in 1927 on Summer Street – was in tough condition when she was walking the school’s hallways as a student. She even said there was a breeze flowing through the school’s gymnasium during a recent city council swearing-in ceremony.
But after many years of discussion and planning, a new high school is now moving forward and slated to become a reality in two years’ time. Rivera and city officials confirmed Wednesday to PBN that construction on a new 123,844-square-foot high school will begin in December, with students expecting to walk through the school’s doors for the first time in 2025.
Additionally, the R.I. Health and Educational Building Corp. on Wednesday closed on a $93.5 million bond issue to help finance the school’s construction, furnishing and equipment. RIHBEC Executive Director Kim Mooers said in a statement the 20-year bonds carry an all-in interest rate of 3.8% Plus, the bonds were sold at a premium of $7.8 million, Mooers said, yielding just more than $100 million for project costs.
Along with having new classrooms and equipment, city officials also hope the new high school can help revitalize and beautify the 1-square-mile community as a whole.
“Being able to have a space where students are going to feel safe, feel comfortable, their morale is going to go way up,” Rivera said. “We’re also hoping this will help with the [student] attendance and student achievement. This is going to be a space where students are going to feel like we care about them and their education.”
Rivera said conversations were had about a new high school in the city long before she became mayor, but she made building a new high school a priority of hers. She said she spoke with then-R.I. Treasurer Seth Magaziner – now a congressman – and current R.I. Treasurer James A. Diossa (Rivera’s predecessor) to help push the idea of a new high school across the finish line.
Legislative assistance was also needed for the city to get a new high school. Matthew Jerzyk, attorney for William A. Farrell & Associates LLC who is the city’s solicitor, told PBN two bills had to be passed in 2021 by the R.I. General Assembly to change how school financing worked.
Normally, Jerzyk said, the city would go out to bond, pay the full school construction costs and seek reimbursement from the state. But because the city’s school budget is only $18 million, “there was no scenario” fiscally to bond $144 million, Jerzyk said, and receive reimbursement from the state.
“We were able to pass legislation to turn that formula around,” Jerzyk said. “So now, it’s the state fronting the money instead of the city. This was a very unique situation that required external partners [Magaziner, Diossa, R.I. House, R.I. Senate and Gov. Daniel J. McKee] who came together in a special way.”
Diossa also said in a statement the $93.5 million bond will ensure students in the city will have “the infrastructure required to reach their full potential.”
Jerzyk and city Finance Director Mary Singer says the new high school will contain “future forward” educational space. That will include a community gymnasium, meeting spaces, science labs, theater space, mobile desks and modern tools in classrooms.
Rivera also said the new school will house career and technical education programs and attract students not just within the city, but also from neighboring communities, such as Lincoln, Cumberland, Pawtucket and North Providence. The district is currently working on developing which CTE programs will be offered at the new school, she said.
“We’re trying to focus on what are the needs of the community,” Rivera said, “and what are going to interest students in the city.”
The new high school will be built at the intersection of Lonsdale and Higginson avenues, adjacent to the Francis L. Corrigan Athletic Complex and less than a mile’s drive from the current high school. With the school near the athletic complex, Jerzyk says the track along the football field – where Central Falls High School’s football team plays – will be upgraded to where the city can host state events.
Significant prep work needs to be done with the site. In addition to removing contaminants from the soil underground, the city will need to tear down both the outdoor basketball courts and the International Meat Market to build the new school. Jerzyk said the city acquired the meat market property last year and is working to help relocate the business to a new location within the city. He also says new outdoor basketball courts will be built behind the new high school and Rivera also said new outdoor courts will open on High Street in the coming months.
Peregrine Property Management and Ai3 Architects, which helped build the new East Providence High School, are the project manager and architect, respectively, for the new city high school project, Jerzyk said. He also said the city will start accepting bids for a construction manager, with the goal of selecting said construction manager between October and November.