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Pawtucket, R.I., Wants to Build New School on Site of Old Baseball Park

Wed January 05, 2022 - Northeast Edition
The Boston Globe

A rendering of the proposed new Pawtucket High School, which would be built on the site of McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I.
A rendering of the proposed new Pawtucket High School, which would be built on the site of McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I.

McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I., may soon be torn down to make way for a high school campus.

The Pawtucket district hopes to use a recently vacated minor league baseball stadium site as the location for a 482,500-sq. ft., 2,500-student high school. The campus would consolidate two of the city's existing high schools, Shea and Tolman, and possibly a third, the Jacqueline Walsh School for the Arts, the Boston Globe reported. The school also would house Career Technical Education spaces.

In December, a subcommittee of school and city officials recommended moving forward with construction plans. The project would require demolishing the vacant McCoy Stadium, the 79-year-old city-owned ballpark that the Pawtucket Red Sox called home for 50 years. The PawSox left McCoy for a new stadium that opened in May in Worcester, Mass.

The new high school construction would cost approximately $302.5 million.

To pay for it, Pawtucket would need to tap a previous school bond and ask the Rhode Island General Assembly to approve a new bond, which would then require approval by Pawtucket voters, spokesperson Christopher Hunter said. The Rhode Island Department of Education would provide reimbursement for about 80 percent of the costs.

Construction could be completed by 2026 and open to students by the fall semester.

McCoy Stadium was the site of baseball's longest game, a 33-inning marathon in 1981. After the PawSox left McCoy for Worcester, the old baseball park has remained vacant and moribund, with fading murals hanging on the walls and Canada geese fertilizing the outfield.

City Weighs Options for the Site's Use

Pawtucket's Ad Hoc Subcommittee to Study High School Academic Complex has been meeting over the last four months, holding eight public meetings and working with school facilities consultant Colliers International and SLAM architects.

The subcommittee — with representatives from the school committee, city council, the mayor's office, teachers, administrators — voted to recommend a 482,500-sq.-ft. Pawtucket High School campus.

"This project would take advantage of a city-owned asset, turning the now sadly vacant McCoy Stadium site into a vibrant campus for learning, career exploration, athletics and community activities," Pawtucket Mayor Donald R. Grebien said in a statement. "This project is a priority for my administration, and I thank the members of the ad hoc subcommittee for their work vetting and developing the concept to this point."

If the plan proceeds, the city would look at potentially selling William E. Tolman Senior High and analyzing options for repurposing Charles E. Shea Senior High, Hunter added.

Subcommittee chair Gerard "Jay" Charbonneau said he will soon present the recommendation to the full school committee, calling it "a bold vision for the type of 21st century learning environment that our students deserve."

"The Pawtucket High School campus concept would be the most modern high school learning environment in the state, with room for exciting new CTE career pathways, state-of-the-art classrooms, arts and performances spaces, athletics fields and shared community spaces," he continued.

City Councilman Terrence E. Mercer, a subcommittee member who represents the area around McCoy Stadium, said the proposal "would breathe new life into the area while providing our students with the 21st century learning environment they deserve."

The subcommittee, Mercer noted, delved into the concept's educational and financial feasibility, "and we collectively agree that this is a project the school committee should seriously consider. A new Pawtucket High School and CTE campus [can] be a shining example of our commitment to future generations of Pawtucket students."

He told the Globe that officials considered other options for McCoy, including making it the home of another minor league baseball team or a professional softball team, and constructing a new public safety complex there.

But, he said, "Nothing seemed to take hold, and all those ideas required a considerable level of retrofitting and getting it up to snuff."

In the end, the subcommittee agreed that the best option was the Pawtucket High School campus concept.

"It's bittersweet for me," Mercer admitted to the venerable Boston news source. "I grew up a block from McCoy Stadium and have watched the PawSox since I was six years old. That was my personal playground. So, I'd hate to see the old stadium demolished. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Tolman guy. I played baseball and basketball there."

But, he said, "I think this will be good for the city and future generations of students."

After taking part in a recent tour of the new $190 million East Providence High School, Mercer told the Globe that he realized the potential benefits of a new, modern school building.

"I was astounded to see what could be."

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