WOOD RIVER JCT. — More than a year of construction on what’s now known as the Chariho Alternative Learning Academy reached a high point on Tuesday.
Chariho and state officials, students, and local council leaders from Chariho’s member towns of Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the completion and opening of the learning space that will replace the leased trailers used for the district’s alternative learning program since 2003. The word “dilapidated” was used more than once during the ceremony to describe those trailers.
Students Tanner Couchon, Chad Boisclair and Raeana Hinckley, who will take classes in the alternative learning center, performed the ceremonial ribbon cutting.
The same students later led tours of the new building, showing guest visitors the various classrooms and offices that make up the facility.
Couchon, 16, had one word to describe the new school.
“Beautiful,” he said. “Much better than a trailer.”
Colby Boisclair, 16, will also take courses in the building.
“It’s a lot better. A lot more room,” he said of the building. “We have a gym now.”
The ceremony, which moved inside to the new gymnasium, also served as a welcome back to the Chariho campus for Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci.
Ricci has been homebound for most of the summer, recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor.
Ricci said the goal of the building project was to result in equity, not equality. The latter is “shallow” and easier to accomplish, he said. But equity serves each student’s specific needs, he said.
“This building doesn’t look like other buildings, because it’s been designed specifically to meet the needs of the children who attend school here. That’s what equity is all about,” he said.
“Not many school districts in the state can say ‘We are equitable, and give students what they need all of the time.’”
The Ahlborg Construction Corporation of Warwick completed the construction on schedule and the staff moved into the new school in June.
Its completion marks a milestone in the school district’s efforts to replace the trailers that students and staff used for years as part of RYSE, which stands for Reaching Youth through Support and Education. The program opened on the Chariho campus in 2003.
“I’m the longest serving staff member from RYSE,” Behavioral Management Assistant David Kennedy said. He’s been with the program for 15 years.
“This is long overdue. There’s no comparison at all with the trailers,” he said. “For us it’s a fresh start and we’re very happy.”
Chariho School Committee Chairwoman Sylvia Stanley remembered touring the old RYSE building trailers, talking to students. It was a building that was falling down around them, she said.
“The question I heard many times was, ‘Why don’t we have a nice place like the other students,’” she said. The new facility would make students and staff proud, she said.
“I think the learning experience will be much better,” she added.
A major campus upgrade in 2010 did not include the RYSE School, but it was eventually determined that a new building, the cost of which is subsidized by state aid, would be more cost-efficient than continuing to lease construction trailers.
The Rhode Island Department of Education approved $5.2 million for the new school and will reimburse the district up to 65 percent of the construction cost, leaving the towns of Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton to pay the remaining $2 million.
But it was the issue of equity that drove the multiyear campaign to persuade voters to approve a bond of up to $6 million to build the new school. Construction began on Aug. 8, 2017.
“This building is a place of learning and growth, and one that is quite unique in our community,” RYSE School Building Committee Chairwoman Lisa Macaruso said.