Mount Pleasant High School in Providence has an enrollment of 1,174 students. (Michael Salerno/Rhode Island Current)
PROVIDENCE — Charles Holliday led a group of six people into a first floor boy’s bathroom at Mount Pleasant High School and knocked off a checklist of structural issues in the 85-year old building.
“A lot of the pipes have been replaced over the years,” said Holliday, a behavioral specialist at the school, pointing at cracks and chipped paint overhead. “As you can see, there’s a lot of water damage in the ceiling. Underneath there, it’s a mystery.”
What is certain is that the school where 1,174 students are currently enrolled is getting a new name next year. The mystery is really what will happen to the 258,348 square-foot building when construction crews arrive in 2025. The state-controlled Providence Public School District (PPSD) and city officials are looking at three options for the future use of the school.
- Build a completely new building, funded by part of the $235 million bond approved by voters last November.
- Renovate the building at a projected cost of $190 million.
- Keep the main core and edifice of the building and demolish and rebuild the rest, at a cost of $120 million.
Whatever happens at Mount Pleasant High School, PPSD wants to reassure the public there are no plans to close the school or allow a charter takeover. And that’s why Holliday was giving a tour of the bathroom, gymnasiums and classrooms Tuesday night during an open house.
The open house followed two recent meetings organized by PPSD and City Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan, who represents the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. During a presentation and slide show in the auditorium, the audience of about 100 people learned of a rebrand for the school.
“Very shortly you will not be hearing Mount Pleasant High School,” said Mount Pleasant Principal Wobberson Torchon, eliciting enthusiastic applause from the audience. “It’ll be Mount Pleasant Early College and Career Academy.”
The new name will reflect the expansion of the school’s career preparation program from small groups of 30 students to the entire student body to encompass engineering, robotics, industrial, and college preparatory programs. It also helps guide a transformation of the school, which would also expand computer science and create a teacher training program in partnership with several institutions including: Rhode Island College, Electric Boat, and the University of Rhode Island.
“We’re in a position today, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to invest $110 million into this facility,” said Ryan, “It’s alive, it’s well, it’s going to be bigger and better.”
Mount Pleasant is one of four Providence public schools designated for redesign and support grants by the Rhode Island Department of Education. That makes all of them eligible for federal School Improvement Grants in the amount of $180,000 to raise performance indicators. Other schools eligible for the grants include: Esek Hopkins Middle School, Delsesto Middle School, and Jorge Alvarez High School.
Rumors of closure
Mount Pleasant High School opened its doors in 1938 after being built as part of a Public Works Administration program. The school was placed on the Providence Preservation Society’s most endangered properties list after an attempt to demolish the school was beaten back by community resistance in 2007.
State Sen. Sam Bell, a Providence Democrat whose district includes the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, had raised concerns about the possibility of the school’s closure at a community meeting last February. Bell, who attended the open house, was suspicious when $25.5 million was cut from maintenance funding for the school; the most drastic cut of any school in the district at the time.
That led Bell to voice concerns about the school closing or becoming a charter school. If that were to happen, Mount Pleasant would be the first former public high school to house a charter in Providence.
Councilor Ryan denies that the school would close down or becomes a charter.
“That is patently false,” Ryan said.
“The options are taking more form and shape,” Ryan told Rhode Island Current.
“We’ve seen time and time again that Providence Public School buildings that are left empty, that we are told are unusable, become charter schools,” Bell said Tuesday. “Even if this were not the intention of kicking Mount Pleasant High out of the building, there’s a high chance that might happen in practical terms.”
Bell pointed to several high-profile closures, including Alan Shawn Feinstein Elementary School on Broad Street and Carl G. Lauro Elementary on Kenyon Street at the end of the last school year. Providence Mayor Brett Smiley said in June that he is open to a number of possibilities for those locations.
In 2021, Achievement First took over the Charles N. Fortes Elementary School building on Daboll Street to launch Achievement First Promesa Elementary. In June, city authorities approved a controversial 25-year lease on that facility.
Opponents say charter schools push out established residents as they are able to be more selective in their student body.
Questions of trust
The decision by RIDE and PPSD to close the Lauro and Feinstein schools on the last day of school without parents and teachers having a say was widely criticized.
“It’s nice to be given the assurances that [charter expansion] is not going to happen,” said Danielle Lucini, the school’s music director. “But you always have to see it to believe it.”
“I’d like to trust that,” Lucini added. “The best that you can do is put faith in what your leaders do.”
Several parents who spoke with Rhode Island Current said they supported the idea of renovating the school but worried about what may come after that’s done.
“It shouldn’t matter the appearance of the school as long as these children are getting their education,” said Isabel Imondi, whose son will be a freshman at the school.
“We can see that the building needs some repairs but we don’t see any reason for it to be demolished,” said Juan Alvarez, whose daughter will enter the 12th grade when school begins on Sept. 6, in Spanish. “The foundation of this building is very strong. They don’t build them like this anymore.”
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