Mount Pleasant High School Deserves Better

Published in Advocacy Alerts, Press & Media.

Mount Pleasant High School was built in 1938 by the Public Works Administration as an
expression of public investment and optimism about the future of Providence. Over the last eight decades, the school has continued to serve the community as both an educational and civic resource, and the impressive Collegiate Gothic-style building lends the immediate neighborhood undeniable gravitas.

This summer, the Providence Public Schools District (PPSD) set aside eight weeks to decide this building’s fate and failed to provide concrete plans, informed financial projections, or undertake thoughtful public engagement in order to do so. PPS joins a coalition of concerned neighbors, parents, and faculty in opposing any decision about the future of Mount Pleasant High School until better information is available to inform a thoughtful process.

Neighborhood residents – who will bear the tax burden and will send their children to Mount
Pleasant High School – deserve transparency and meaningful opportunities to weigh in on any possible next steps. Three hasty public meetings were held over the summer, each with controlled questions and scripted responses, and three potential options were presented: a $190 million renovation, a $120 million partial demolition retaining only the auditorium, and $110 million full demolition and rebuild.

Aside from one comment that the estimate for a complete rebuild (magically) matches the maximum amount that the Rhode Island Department of Education will reimburse, no further details have been provided that would explain this massive disparity between the three estimates despite repeated questions from community members, PPS, and state legislators. As of last week, PPSD took the renovation of Mount Pleasant High School off the table citing extraordinary cost.

Until better information is available to justify how PPSD reached these wildly disparate
estimates, these proposals are simple marketing hype. In 2017, a Facility Conditions Assessment estimated $31 million for a total renovation of the high school. Construction costs have indeed risen substantially in recent years, but they cannot account for an additional $160 million tacked onto the 2023 estimate for renovation. Neither does modernizing hallways, classrooms, and equipment – an equally soft explanation proffered by PPSD administrators when questioned on how a 21st-century education could be so expensive. Furthermore, in our professional opinion, PPS does not believe that the cost of demolition is factored into the $110 million quoted for a full rebuild. The public is not being presented with real numbers; we’re being presented with propaganda to support a specific agenda.

It should not take a Freedom of Information Act request to follow PPSD’s rationale. Nor should we necessarily take an institution with a decades-long history of neglecting its public school buildings at its word. Even if PPSD were to achieve their desired outcome for a brand new school building, the public should be exceedingly concerned that PPSD is interested in or capable of caring for their investment over the long term. Tight deadlines, soft data, and tepid community engagement do not make for sound public decisions.

And if Providence residents are meant to truly evaluate their options, there are additional considerations to possible demolition — namely the costly environmental impact of tearing down such formidable building. Demolition and construction accounts for about 40% of the United State’s waste stream, with the vast majority of it ending up in landfills. Demolition also releases pollutants and toxic chemicals like lead dust into the air, leading to hazardous ground conditions. Construction is incredibly carbon-intensive as its primary materials like steel and concrete account for 20% of carbon emissions. As Providence confronts how climate change will affect its urban fabric, wholesale and lazy demolition would be an unwise choice for our city’s health and environment.

PPS supports a good-faith discussion of the future of Mount Pleasant High School, and the
school’s students, faculty, and families deserve more input and information. We do not disagree that the existing school is in dire need of investment. And as we have said before, “historic school” only comes to mean “inadequate” when generations of policymakers and administrators neglect their responsibility to care for the public buildings where our city’s youth spend their formative years. But residents should not be railroaded into a decision that will have ramifications for years to come. PPS stands with the Save Mount Pleasant High School Coalition to demand clear, accurate, and unbiased options and a vigorous public engagement process that allows neighbors to have a true part in the future of this community landmark.

To demand clear estimates of renovation and rebuild costs or to oppose the total demolition of Mount Pleasant High School, please share your comments with:

Superintendent Javier Montanez: 401-456-9100

Director of School Building Authority, Mario Carreno:

Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan: or 401-521-7477

Governor’s Office: 401-222-2080

RIDE: 401-222-4600

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