Halliwell name added to wing at NSES; Committee asks to also keep moniker at former school

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – The debate on what to do with the Dr. Harry L. Halliwell name following the closing of an elementary school that honored the beloved late doctor has been at least partially resolved.

Members of the North Smithfield School Committee have voted to dedicate a wing of North Smithfield Elementary School after Halliwell, a pediatrician who treated local children during the polio outbreak of the 1940s and 1950s before eventually succumbing to the disease himself at the age of 33.

Now, Halliwell’s name will grace the new 4th grade classrooms added to NSES this year. The four rooms were constructed by Gilbane Building Company over the spring and summer months with the help of a $4 million construction bond approved by voters in 2014, and opened to students this fall.

But committee members also want the property that bore Halliwell’s name for the past 62 years to remain dedicated to the doctor. The school closed its doors for good in June, and in August, the school board held two public hearings to gauge resident’s opinions on what would should happen with the name.

Opinions varied at the somewhat emotional gatherings, with some speaking in favor of renaming NSES after the doctor, saying his name belongs at a space dedicated to young children.

Others said they prefer the name stay with the former school property on Victory Highway. The 35-acre lot officially became property of the town of North Smithfield in October, with the committee voting unanimously to release custody and control of the land to the municipality.

While it is still unclear what will become of 11 buildings and surrounding acreage, some have suggested creating a “Dr. Harry Halliwell Community Center,” for use of seniors and other town functions.

“This is a very hard and emotional decision and there are no right or wrong answers when determining how the community would like to continue to honor Dr. Halliwell,” noted Committee Chairman James Lombardi following the hearings.

The committee’s decision was ultimately a compromise aimed at satisfying both, according to Lombardi.

“Consistent with the testimony at the public hearing, we have officially renamed the new wing of the elementary school in honor of Dr Harry L Haliwell,” Lombardi said. “We also requested that the town keep the name associated with the present location at 358 Victory Highway for future town use.”

All members of the School Committee were present for the unanimous vote, held on Tuesday, Nov. 19.

Lombardi said the committee plans to schedule an official dedication ceremony for the classrooms in the near future.

Town Administrator Gary Ezovski told NRI NOW last month that town officials will make a decision on the fate of the Victory Highway land after additional public hearings.

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