Images of this Property
17 images: Press to view larger or scroll sideways to see more. Contributions from the Secretary of State Digital Collection
About this Property
#School closure announced in 2022
The school has about 140,000 sq ft of floor space with 55 classrooms and serves grades kindergarten through 5th grade. The school had an enrollment of 879 according to a 2017 report. Capacity could serve 1,050 students.1
The same report was intended to assess the integrity of the building and the amount of investment required to keep it “clean, safe, and dry.” It totaled $23.7M for repairs, including $9.5M for a new roof, $5.3M for interior upgrades, and $3M for technology upgrades. Interestingly, zero dollars were specified as required for structural repairs or upgrades.
It went on to calculate the return on investment if these dollars were spent. It described a financial model that tries to estimate at which point investments into an existing building would be better spent on a newer building. It then compared that with the replacement value, “the estimated cost of replacing the current building with another building of like size, based on today’s estimated cost of construction in the Providence, Rhode Island area.” Their estimated replacement cost was $49M, more than 200% of the $23M price tag to fix everything. But balance that with the idea that for the first 10 years, a new building would require far less maintenance.
The baseline score they would want to see was 65%, but the school scored 54.30%. The details of the work required to maintain the building, the cost when compared with replacing the school, and low effeciency score prompted the Providence Public Schools District (PPSD) to consider shutting down the school and replacing it.
Coupled with this report, the Providence Journal reported the conditions of the school over the course of a few articles. Teachers shared harrowing details. In a 2019 article, one teacher shared her morning routine. “I would come in in the morning and spend up to 30 minutes emptying buckets, drying the floor and putting the buckets back before the students came in. I just feel like our building, and the district in general, is kind of in a constant state of triage.” It went on to detail leaky roofs, discolored tap water, broken bathroom stall doors, rodent sightings, and the presence of asbestos and lead.2
Why did it get this bad? Why were conditions at Lauro allowed to be “distracting at best and dangerous at worst” according to teachers quoted?3 A few reasons, and if we give PPSD wholly the benefit of the doubt, perhaps the perfect storm of reasons. One, the deferred maintenance can partially blamed on a four-year moratorium on state-financing, which prevented districts from obtaining reimbursement for construction costs. For communities already facing budget shortfalls (but why isn’t education fully funded in the first place, you might ask), this means they were less likely to spend money that they would not be able to get back from the state.4
But beyond that, Providence spends more per pupil than any other district in the state — about $571. The next-highest spending district is Cranston, which spends $475 per pupil.5 Why so high? Some think there is a lack of competition from vendors who can provide school custodial and maintenance services, and some say even with that, these companies do not pay their workers well enough for them to care about doing a good job.
In the fall of 2018, the Providence City Council approved a four-year contract extension for Aramark, and the city will pay them over $18M in 2019. Aramark has been serving the district since 2005 and employs 215 people in schools. Previously in 2014, the city received bids from only two other companies — GCA Services Group and Sodexo. Aramark was the lowest bidder and was awarded the contract.6
While the lack of state funding for four years, the lack of competition and the high costs of maintenance, coupled with the aging infrastructure is a perfect storm of negative conditions, the PPSD is not faultless. Since we are not investigative reporters, it is difficult to point fingers to specific examples of mismanagement. But when it came to announcing the school closures in 2022, it is easy to see how the school board made mistakes in communication and possibly decision-making. It is also unclear how much of the decision came from PPSD vs. RIDE.
In December of 2022, PPSD unveiled its plan for “newer and fewer schools.” The public and families of children whose schools would be shuttered were in a tailspin of panic from the secrecy around these plans and which schools would be affected. Carl G. Lauro was one of these closures, which also included Alan Shawn Feinstein at Broad Street and Gilbert Stuart Middle School.7
The board cited shrinking enrollment at these schools as one of the factors, along with the age of the buildings and maintenance costs. Even though the pandemic has led to a drop in enrollment across the country, enrollment in general has been steadily declining since 2017 from 24,075 public school students in Providence to 21,656 in 2022.8 Part of this is due to a lower birth rate and lower overall population, but anecdotally, more families are opting for private school choices despite the expense.
But shrinking enrollment is a “tail wags the dog” scenario — allow buildings to crumble and teachers will not want to work there, parents will not want to send their kids there, and enrollment will shrink. If you give the impression that these schools are not worthy of investment, don’t be surprised if parents exercise any option that have to relocate to a school district that is being actively supported.
Frustrated teachers and parents approached the board, raising many concerns, including a lack of transparency around the closure decisions. While PPSD stated no layoffs will occur, teachers would have to reapply for their jobs which they say is unfair and gives the district the ability to hire fewer than they currently require.9
The school was built in 1927, and like many schools and municipal buildings of that era, it was designed in the Neoclassical style popular at the beginning of the 20th century. The detailing is sparse, though, with minimal limestone details. The three-story eastern wing, which was built first, has an ornate brick cornice with copper cladding, slightly more detailing, and separate labeled entrances for Boys on the south end and Girls on the north end.
As it currently stands, Carl G. Lauro will close at the end of this school year, June 2023. It is very unclear what will happen to the building after closure. Certainly, it will not continue to be maintained. If so, that presents a danger to the neighborhood, as fencing is already present on the sidewalks to prevent people from walking too close to the building and potentially being struck by falling bricks. The school is surrounded by a dense urban neighborhood, so demolition would be very expensive as it would need to be done slowly and carefully.
Could it be converted to residential? It seems likely, especially in an already dense neighborhood. Other schools have been converted, so, why not this one?
From the “Broadway-Armory Historic District” National Register nomination form, 1974
99 Kenyon Street School/Carl G. Lauro Memorial School (ca 1925?): 2-story; flat; brick school; with grouped windows, limestone string courses, spare neo-classical detail, and 3-story wings.
Links are to source material.
- 1926–27 G.M. Hopkins Insurance Map, Secretary of State Digital Collection — The western wing of the school has been built and the house lots on the eastern side look to have been razed, but plot lines are still on the map
- 1937 G.M. Hopkins Insurance Map, Secretary of State Digital Collection — The eastern and central portions of the school have been built. Along the western side, notice how what is now called De Pasquale Ave did not continue through to Broadway and it was called “Balbo” street
State of Rhode Island. “Facility Condition Assessment: Providence - Carl G. Lauro Elementary School.” June 2017. Accessed March 21, 2023 from https://www.eride.ri.gov/SBA/analysis/school/Providence_Carl_G._Lauro_Elementary_School%20-%20FCA_Detail.pdf ↩
List, Madeleine. “Providence school buildings still dealing with long list of issues — leaks, asbestos, rodent sightings and more.” Providence Journal: Web Edition Articles (RI), sec. News, 15 Dec. 2019. NewsBank: America’s News, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info%3Asid/infoweb.newsbank.com&svc_dat=NewsBank&req_dat=D4BD6B42F1AB4706B5E1244D477DEE03&rft_val_format=info%3Aofi/fmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Actx&rft_dat=document_id%3Anews/177E47EDE7880690. Accessed 22 Mar. 2023. ↩
Russo, Amy. “Names of closing Providence schools become public as district faces backlash over plan.” Providence Journal: Web Edition Articles (RI), sec. News, 15 Dec. 2022. NewsBank: America’s News, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info%3Asid/infoweb.newsbank.com&svc_dat=NewsBank&req_dat=D4BD6B42F1AB4706B5E1244D477DEE03&rft_val_format=info%3Aofi/fmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Actx&rft_dat=document_id%3Anews/18E6CB7BCB3D6548. Accessed 22 Mar. 2023. ↩
“Public school enrollment in Rhode Island.” KidsCount.org, accessed 25 March 2023 from https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/5664-public-school-enrollment#detailed/2/any/false/2048,574,1729,37,871/any/12268 ↩
“Names of closing Providence schools become public…” ↩