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Discontent in the Renaissance City

Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline has won plaudits for putting city government on a more ethical footing and for overseeing a construction boom, among other achievements. Yet two recent developments -- the consideration of selling the main downtown branch of the Providence Public Library, and the closing of the West Broadway School, over the wishes of a number of parents -- are stripping at least some of the shine from the Renaissance City.

Asking whether the PPL can be saved, the Library Advocates Coalition says, "Yes." The group, composed of librarians, library boosters, and patrons from around the city, is slated to hold a news conference at 11:30 AM Monday, in front of the Fox Point branch library, 90 Ives St., to present its recommendations "for reviving trust in PPL, improving the library's system of governance, and restoring its fiscal integrity." The LAC says it "provides the missing public perspective as the future of the Central Library and its branches is considered by PPL and the City of Providence."

Meanwhile, the ProJo's David Brussat had a good column yesterday, questioning whether the Cicilline administration's ambitious school-building program makes sense and is a good use of money:

At least those old schools have the look of places where young people are expected to behave like and be treated as adults in training. Since then, new schools looked like faceless modern factories, as if pupils were products. Many of the newest schools look like cartoon caricatures of schools, as if education had nothing to do with reaching maturity.

I can't remember what I used to think of the looks of my old public schools in DC, but today I understand that the purpose of their impressive appearance was to impress young minds with the importance of school. Another good idea killed by modernity! Excuse me for suggesting that education and architecture suffer from similar trajectories.

Following a recent joint appearance on A Lively Experiment, I asked Cicilline about closing the West Broadway School. Despite my skepticism, he insisted that the school building is not safe.

My friend Bryan Principe, a West Broadway School parent, disagrees. Perhaps more significantly, he makes two other important points in an e-mail sent this week to other concerned citizens:

Why is this such an important topic? Because what is happening now on the West Side, could happen anywhere in the city at any time. In formulating the decision to close West Broadway Elementary, the school department had no public process. No outreach; No community engagement; No transparency.

Critics of closing West Broadway aren't giving up the fight. Principe encourages those interested to come to Monday's school board meeting, taking place at 6:30 PM, at the Providence School Department, 797 Westminster St. A vote on the school is slated to take part at that time. Critics can also speak up via CitizenSpeak by visiting http://citizenspeak.org/node/999.

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