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$222M plan for new NK middle school, safety complex spurs debate | #schoolsaftey

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — A new middle school and public safety complex could be on the horizon for North Kingstown, but some residents aren’t happy both plans are tied to the same ballot measure.

North Kingstown resident Edward Renehan said he supports a plan to build a new public safety complex, but he nonetheless plans to vote “no” on Question 1 because the $222 million bond referendum measure would also authorize the town to build a new middle school that he argues lacks specifics.

“They’ve really put the cart before the horse,” Renehan told 12 News. “At this juncture, we don’t have a definite location.”

The ballot measure — which could be voted on as soon as November — comes at the same time town leaders are still debating whether to build one or two new middle schools. If they choose to build one school, it would become one of the largest in the state and contain 1,200 students, according to town officials.

If the town builds two smaller middle schools, one would go up at Davisville Academy and the second would be built at Wickford Middle School, according to a presentation this week provided to the North Kingstown School Committee.

On the public safety side, North Kingstown Fire Chief Scott Kettelle said the existing complex that was built in 1957 is deteriorating and needs to be replaced. He said it isn’t big enough, explaining one employee currently works in a jail cell and detectives must be careful about where they put evidence and other investigatory material.

“They’ve actually got an office there that when there’s a heavy rain storm forecasted they’ve got to pull paper work off the walls because the walls get soaked with water,” Kettelle said.

Asked why the middle school project and the public safety complex were combined into one question, Town Manager Ralph Mollis told 12 News town leaders typically combine what he described as town “needs” into one ballot measure. Other big-ticket items Mollis described as town “wants” are then put into a separate ballot measure.

“The history of the town has always been to combine projects into one question,” Mollis said, pointing to a second ballot measure that will determine whether voters want to float taxpayer-backed bonds to pay for a new recreation center.

Mollis said the goal is for the School Committee and Town Council to flesh out specific details for the new middle school by September, so the measure can be placed on the ballot in November. If they aren’t ready by then, Mollis said they could push the vote to next spring.

For Renehan, however, he said he’s doubtful the the town will be ready.

“Put the brakes on, do not put the bonds on the ballot this year and give themselves and the citizens of the town a year to figure things out to make logical plans,” Renehan said.

Kate Wilkinson ([email protected]) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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