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Mayor set on $7 million for sports complex
Members of the School Board wonder why the money can't be spent on more pressing problems.
By Linda Borg, Providence Journal | July 6, 2005
Mayor David N. Cicilline and City Council member Kevin Jackson want to build a $7 million athletic complex next to the Hanley Career & Technical Center on Fricker Street.
The athletic center is part of a $42-million school bond issue that will go before the City Council Thursday night. The bond includes $16 million for a new high school off Adelaide Street, $12 million in school repairs and $1 million to renovate the historic Fox Point Bathhouse, which will become part of the Vartan Gregorian Elementary School.
Jackson, chairman of the City Council Finance Committee, said the athletic complex represents an initiative between "myself and the mayor." He said the complex will tie in nicely with the mayor's after-school programs.
The 30,000-square-foot facility would include two pools, an indoor soccer field, a track, dance studio, weight rooms, basketball courts and lockers. It would be open to city students and their families.
But several School Board members have concerns about the proposal. They have asked John Simmons, the mayor's director of administration, to explain the project at the board's July 11 meeting.
"I'm hugely in favor of athletics and any kind of after-school activities," said School Board member Burt Crenca, "but we, as a board, need more information. Personally, this is all new to me."
Several School Board members said they needed more information on the annual cost of maintaining the building before signing off on it. Others wanted to make sure that more pressing problems with facilities would receive attention.
"First of all, we still have kids in the basement of Mount Pleasant High School," said board member Robert Wise. "I want to know who [the sports complex] would serve and how we would fund it. I have concerns about why this is a priority."
This isn't the first time that the sports facility has come before
the School Board.
"The athletic complex has been talked about for years," Simmons
said. "It comes from the mayor, the chairman of the finance committee
and the school system. Many people have asked, 'Why don't the students
have a first-class athletic facility?' "
"The administration has taken a hard look at the school facilities," he said. "It's the judgment of this administration that this is the right time and the right place."
"Somebody wants it," said School Board President Mary McClure.
Jackson said he doesn't understand why School Board members are so surprised. Simmons, he said, explained the project to the School Board last fall.
"This is something the mayor and I feel strongly about," Jackson said yesterday. "It goes hand in hand with our after-school initiatives. School doesn't end at 2 p.m. or 2:30. We need to provide positive alternatives for our kids."
The city, working with the Education Partnership's After School Alliance, has plans to create a series of neighborhood hubs where students can take art and music, do their homework, use the library or work out. The goal is not to create new programs but to get existing community groups to work together.
If the School Board decides against the proposal, Jackson said the City Council can proceed without the board's approval.
"We have power over them," he said. "What they need to learn is that we direct the financial responsibility for the city, not them."
Simmons said the state will pick up 80 percent of the cost of the $42 million bond, which leaves the city responsible for $8 million for all projects, amortized over a 20-year period. At last week's School Board meeting, school finance director Mark Dunham estimated that it could cost $200,000 annually to run the complex.
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