Assembled dignitaries prepare to cut the ribbon outside the newly renovated Horace Mann Hall at Rhode Island College on Monday, April 3. L to R: Rhode Island College President Jack Warner, Rhode Island Commissioner of Postsecondary Education Shannon Gilkey, Sen. Valerie Lawson, Chair of the Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education Frank Caprio, Gov. Dan Mckee, Chair of the Rhode Island Board of Education Dennis Duffy, Rhode Island College Student Newell Roberts, and Rep. Raymond A. Hull. (Photo by Kevin G. Andrade/Rhode Island Current)
PROVIDENCE – Dozens of students, faculty, and dignitaries braved the wind Monday at Rhode Island College as the governor and other dignitaries cut the ribbon to officially open the newly renovated Horace Mann Hall.
“What is taught in this building, what is learned in this building, has a lasting impact on the state of Rhode Island,” said Jeannine Dingus-Eason, dean of the Feinstein School of Education and Human Development.
Horace Mann Hall houses the Feinstein School and multiple academic departments within it. These include the departments of: Educational Studies, Elementary Education, Special Education and Counseling, Educational Leadership, and School Psychology.
Built in 1971, the three-year renovation project was the first in the building’s history and cost $25 million. The funding came from a $70 million bond approved by voters in 2018 that also funded upgrades to the University of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay Campus.
“We continue to invest in education,” Gov. Dan McKee said. “It is important to our economy.”
— Kevin Gomes Andrade (@KevinGAndrade) April 3, 2023
LLB Architects designed and planned the renovations. H.V. Collins Construction served as the project’s general contractor. The renovations included a new wing with six classrooms and three seminar rooms. Common spaces will allow more natural lighting and there was a three-story addition to the building meant for office space.
Other aspects of the renovation included a new roof, a new elevator, new windows, and upgrades to electric, plumbing, and information technology systems.
Dingus-Eason noted the symbolism of the move, pointing to a nationwide teacher shortage and the role the school plays in resolving Rhode Island’s.
“We are seeing a steep decline in the teacher workforce across the country,” she said. “The timing of this building is critical.”
She added there were almost 12,000 Feinstein School alums working in education across the state and in nearby parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts.
The Rhode Island Department of Education’s most recent three-year analysis of emergency certifications found that 564 such authorizations were issued in the 2020-21 school year, 160 more than in 2019. The certifications are temporary measures issued to alleviate shortages.
Speakers at the program emphasized the school’s reputation as an educator training institution, a reputation stretching back to the 19th century. Rhode Island College began in 1854 as the Rhode Island State Normal School, a term then en vogue referring to teacher training institutions. It is the oldest public institution of higher education in the state.
Yet the school has been facing a continuous reduction in enrollments since 2018, according to Rhode Island College’s latest enrollment report. Since Fall 2018, undergraduate enrollments at the college dropped almost 30% over a five-year period, from 6,688 to 4,719.
At the Feinstein School, there are currently 601 undergraduate and 469 graduate students.
Feinsten’s graduate programs appeared to be the only significant source of growth in the report. Those programs saw an almost 45% increase in enrollment, from 324 in 2018 to 469 in Fall 2022. All graduate programs still saw a slightly greater than 1% drop in enrollment over that same period.
“I believe Rhode Island College is reversing that trend,” McKee said, adding that projects such as the Horace Mann renovation play a role. “We should be attracting people from all over.”
Rhode Island College President Jack R. Warner said the renovation is certainly a part of those efforts. He said prospective students will see the facility and other recently renovated buildings, such as Craig Lee Hall and Gaige Hall, and be able to picture themselves studying within them. Yet the school is not relying on aesthetics alone.
“We’ve sent nine recruiters out into the field,” Warner told The Rhode Island Current. “That’s more than we’ve ever had.”
From Dingus-Eason’s perspective, the first step is ensuring that students, especially on a commuter campus like Rhode Island College, feel at home.
“This is our home,” she said. “It means everything to us and the students.”
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