NEWS

'Watch our vision come to life'

Community celebrates coming transformation of Garden City School

By DANIEL A. KITTREDGE
Posted 7/21/21

By DANIEL KITTREDGE It'll take some time before Charlotte Moffat, who just completed second grade at Garden City Elementary School, can return to the place she's known as her educational home. But the wait, she believes, will be well worth it. The

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NEWS

'Watch our vision come to life'

Community celebrates coming transformation of Garden City School

Posted

It’ll take some time before Charlotte Moffat, who just completed second grade at Garden City Elementary School, can return to the place she’s known as her educational home.

But the wait, she believes, will be well worth it.

The 68-year-old school will soon be transformed into 21st-century learning space. It’s the culmination of a community-driven process in which Charlotte and her peers, as well as their teachers, have had a direct hand in what their new building will look like, inside and out.

“I am so excited for the new school … I’m excited to see what they add to the new school from our creations,” Charlotte told those gathered for a July 15 groundbreaking ceremony.

Jordan Robinson, also a rising third-grader at Garden City, echoed her classmate’s enthusiasm. Like Charlotte, she will be part of the first fifth-grade class to spent a full school year in the new building, which is slated to open in early 2023, before moving on to middle school.

Jordan spoke of the effort that went into the new facility’s design – and mentioned some of the specific additions she’s most anxious to see and use.

“I am so happy that the school is going to get rebuilt and going to get bigger. We worked so hard to design the new school,” she said. “I can’t wait to see the cozy corner and the rock wall. The banana-shaped chair is going to be so popular, and I’m going to like it, too … We are so lucky to have this school before middle school.”

Art teacher Marisa Iaocovone, who has spent 10 of her 19 years in teaching at Garden City, and music teacher Jessica Mazza, who’s been at the school for six years, shared the students’ optimism about what lies ahead. Speaking after the conclusion of the formal ceremony, both said they believe the new space, once completed, will open up a range of possibilities and enhance their ability to instruct their students effectively.

“It’s so important to create an environment that’s nurturing. And this is so archaic right now that it’s so difficult to keep the kids’ attention,” Iacovone said. “So I think environment is a big thing. I think it makes the kids feel safe. I think it helps the kids do their best.”

Over the past year, Iacovone, Mazza and the rest of Garden City’s educators have been undergoing professional development in preparation for the new building’s arrival. It’s a process that’s set to continue.

Among the areas of focus? How to utilize new educational spaces that are more open and adaptable, integrate curricula with other teachers, and conduct more interactive lessons.

“It’s been a lot of fun preparing for this … because you get to see the potential of what you now can do with this new space,” Mazza said.

The next year-plus – to be spent as a temporary home, the now-vacant Chester W. Barrows School building – will be “different,” Mazza said. She noted the irony of Garden City’s community moving out of an aging building and into an even older facility as part of a project focused on modernization.

“It’s taking a step back,” she said, “but it’s totally worth it in the end.”

Iacovone put it this way: “My analogy’s like a workout. You’ve got to put the sweat in and the tears sometimes to get that result that you want in the end.”

Confident that the spirit of the Garden City community will endure through the months ahead, she added: “It is family here. We have that neighborhood feel, and I hope we can bring that to Barrows.”

Last week’s groundbreaking event, which drew state and local dignitaries alongside Garden City families, represented the start of much more than the transformation of single school building.

Cranston Public Schools is embarking on a five-year facilities improvement project, one overwhelmingly approved by city voters through a $147 million city bond question in November 2020. Significant reimbursement is expected from the state, which saw its own school construction bond backed at the polls in 2018.

The Garden City project is the first of the five projects to begin construction. The work, anticipated to take between a year and 18 months, carries an estimated price tag of more than $40 million.

The existing school building, which dates to 1953, will be demolished. In its place on the roughly six-acre site will stand a new, two-story facility encompassing more than 80,000 square feet and capable of serving 575 students, up significantly from the current capacity of just more than 300. That, in turn, will accommodate the student body from Daniel D. Waterman Elementary School, which is also slated to close once the new facility is ready.

During construction, Garden City students and educators will move to Barrows, which closed in 2019. District officials have said utilizing the empty Edgewood school building will allow the Garden City community to remain together to the greatest extent possible.

The consulting firm Fielding International has overseen the design, while engineering firm Jacobs is serving as the project manager. Dimeo Construction is the contractor for the work.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse referenced the so-called Pathfinder project at Eden Park Elementary School, which served as a preview of what would be in store with other planned facilities upgrades. That roughly $9 million project, which opened in 2019, involved the complete renovation of Eden Park’s intermediate wing into a new, modernized space designed in consultation with members of the school community.

“The furniture, the lighting, the room design are all driven by the input of the community and are 21st-century, state-of-the-art educational designs,” Nota-Masse said of what’s coming to Garden City.

The superintendent pointed out the sign outside Garden City, which reads: “GCS is more than a building, it’s a family. Bulldog pride.”

“So yes, the building, the physical structure, may be leaving us, but what is inside, what has existed for several decades in this community, will not be torn down,” she said. “It will be rejuvenated and renovated and brought back even stronger than it was before.”

In terms of the project’s impacts on both the school community and physical neighbors, Nota-Masse acknowledged the year-plus ahead “isn’t going to be easy.”

“It will be inconvenient for some of you, especially those of you who live in this neighborhood … But I promise you, the inconvenience will be worth it in the end when we have a state-of-the-art, incredible building to offer to our young people,” she said.

During his remarks at the groundbreaking, Mayor Ken Hopkins noted the proximity of his home to Garden City – and his family’s deep ties to the school.

“I live right over there. We’re going to be inconvenienced. If I can handle it, the neighborhood can handle it,” he said.

He added: “This is a personal one for me. All three of my children were born and raised on the next street, went to this school. So to see this school disappear is going to take some memories with it, but what I’m looking for is the future. Starting next year, I will have two grandchildren attending this new school. So we’re going to have the past, present and future right here in Garden City.”

A former educator, Hopkins echoed others in terms of the benefits he sees the school facilities improvement push having for Cranston in the long term.

“This groundbreaking event is symbolic of our city’s commitment to educational excellence for every child in Cranston. It marks the beginning of a new era in how we educate children in our community … [It will] make Cranston more appealing for families for decades to come,” he said.

General Treasurer Seth Magaziner told attendees the Garden City project is one of 163 school repair or replacement initiatives approved for funding through the state thus far thanks to the 2018 bond funding. He said the state’s ability to provide baseline reimbursement of 55 percent – up from 35 percent prior to the bond’s passage – both eases the tax burden on communities and enhances how encompassing each project can be.

Magaziner began his career as an educator, spending two years with the organization Teach For America as a third- and fourth-grade teacher in Louisiana. He referenced that experience last week.

“I’m having flashbacks as I stand here … I taught in a building that looked a lot like this one,” he said, adding: “Like this building, the one that I taught in was about seven decades old, and it was full of wonderful students and committed educators. But the building was a limitation. The research shows that the quality of a school building has a direct impact on the ability of teachers to teach and students to learn.”

Principal Bryan Byerlee, during his remarks from the podium, shared his perspective on the preparations that have gone into the Garden City project.

“The best part of this process for me has been working with our students and watching them participate and lead in design work … And their voices have been impressive,” he said. “You might think they’d ask for a bounce entryway or a Chuck E. Cheese in the courtyard, and one or two may have asked for a pool, but overall, student ask-fors included things like comfort, opportunities to move, access to the outdoors and more natural lighting.”

He added: “I’ve also loved seeing teachers’ faces as they realize their days of teaching from old AV carts and holding small groups in hallways and vestibules are numbered … We’re doing this design and planning work together, we are ready, and we are so excited to watch our vision come to life.”

Representatives of the school district and the various firms working on the Garden City project appeared before the city’s Planning Commission for an informational meeting on July 6. The commission is set to formally consider the project’s major land development application in August.

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