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East Providence High is one of many Rhode Island schools that need significant facility upgrades.

Rhode Island task force recommends spending $500 million to upgrade school facilities

A recent state report says the state's public school buildings need $2.2 billion in repairs.

A School Buildings Task Force in Rhode Island says the state should allocate $500 million to renovate and repair crumbling education facilities.

The Providence Journal reports that the recommendation comes in the wake of a report that found that Rhode Island's 306 schools need $2.2 billion worth of repairs.

The task force's report will be submitted to Gov. Gina Raimondo. The $500 million in recommended spending represents almost half of the total debt— $1.2 billion—that the state is capable of taking on over the next 10 years.

Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner and General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, co-chairs of the task force, are advocating for “a once-in-a-generation investment” in public school buildings.

“We know that at the rate we’ve been going, we’re not keeping up with the need” to repair and replace buildings, Magaziner says. “We need to incentivize them to do more. The best way to do that is to increase the amount the state will cover. We want to say, ‘The state will help by picking up more of the bill, but only if you act quickly.’"

The task force also recommends a system of bonuses to prod municipalities to undertake schools repairs and provide incentives for establishing classrooms that teach science, technology, engineering, arts and math along with career and technical education.

The task force approved its report at a meeting in the library of East Providence High School, one of the facilities in Rhode Island needing significant upgrades.

East Providence school officials took task force members on a tour of the building, where they observed crumbling concrete pillars supporting the first floor and the school’s aging heating system relies on. During a midwinter cold snap monitoring pipes and equipment for problems, such as steam leaks, is a 24-hour round the clock job.

East Providence plans to seek voter approval next year of a bond issue to help pay for a new high school; officials say the spending program recommended by the task force would boost the chances of getting the necessary funding.

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