NORTH SMITHFIELD – Sagging floors. Chipping paint. Cracked and peeling floor tiles. Water leaks that leave stains on the ceiling tiles, window sills and walls; rot door and window frames; and destroy the building’s foundation.
These are just a few of the problems members of the North Smithfield Police Department have documented at their Smithfield Road headquarters.
And this week, members of the Municipal Buildings Review Task Force joined Town Administrator Gary Ezovski in a statement heard often over the past several years: fixing it would be a waste of money.
“Functionally, it doesn’t work as a police building,” said MBRTF member Paul Nordstrom. “We feel that ultimately, the town needs to build a police station that has the adequate facilities.”
On Monday, July 20, Nordstorm presented the town’s latest study of the facility, an aging former school that has housed municipal offices, the North Smithfield Emergency Management Agency and the police department for several years.
With work at the former Kendall Dean school now in the finishing stages and municipal offices up and running at that Greene Street building, members of the board tasked with overseeing the town’s recent construction projects have turned their focus back to the structure, which once held Bushee School.
Nordstrom noted that in addition to asbestos remediation costing around $100,000, the building needs roof replacement, projected to cost between $75,000 and $100,000.
“No matter what we do, we have to remove the asbestos from the building, and that would have to be a priority,” Nordstrom said Monday. “In terms of the building as a whole, it needs a lot of work.”
The town had plans to renovate the facility with the help of a $12 million bond approved by voters in 2014. But those plans were ultimately halted by detractors of the project, who said that the budget was inadequate for the work needed.
The building, known as the Annex, has been at the center of ongoing political disputes regarding how the voter-approved bond money should be spent, with officials who worked on the original project saying that up to this point, the town has failed to satisfy a voter mandate.
But Ezovski this week repeated his assessment that short-term repairs to the facility would be a waste of money.
“Any additional investment in this building is, at best, (a) good enough measure,” Ezovski said, calling efforts to complete repairs that will stretch the life of the structure a, “Halliwell-like decision.”
“We’re looking at knocking that building down,” Ezovski said of that former school. “I don’t want to be part of making another Halliwell-type discussion.”
Talks on the project became heated in January after one resident stated the project has lacked transparency, with the Town Council ultimately asking the MBRTF for a recommendation on how to spend the $900,000 slated for Annex repair.
On Monday, councilors seemed in agreement in preliminary discussions on how to move forward.
Councilor Paul Zwolenski noted that he worked in the building during his time as town planner.
“It was deplorable then,” Zwolenski said. “It’s probably worse now. It needs to be reworked, without a doubt.”
Councilor Douglas Osier said, “I’m open to the idea if we decide to move forward and build a new station,” asking what potentially would happen to the remaining building.
“We haven’t really thought about what’s going to happen to the building,” answered Nordstrom. “My opinion is it might not really have much use.”
In addition to immediate repairs, members of the police department have noted the need for a sally port on the building, along with a women’s locker room. Also of concern is a basement used to house those in holding, which Council President Paul Vadenais described this week as “shocking.”
Vadenais recommended a public tour of the facility.
Ezovski said that while he agrees a tour is needed, it could be difficult to carry out.
Solicitor David Igliozzi noted that with obstacles from the ongoing pandemic, “I don’t think a public tour is going to be possible.”
Igliozzi recommended publishing video from a council tour of the property.
“They really need to walk through the building and physically see it themselves,” Vadenais said. “A video, I don’t think, will really do it the service that it needs to have done.”
Ezovski noted that a new police station is expected to cost the town around $6 million.
“The numbers you have presented here are get pretty close to a million, and that’s without the issues that were talked about by the police themselves,” Ezovski said. “I don’t think we can operate in that building as a location for the professional services they want to deliver.”
The administrator noted that the location is convenient for town police, noting that a new building could be built behind the current structure before it is knocked down.
“The concentration of calls is closest to that location,” Ezovski said.
Vadenais asked Igliozzi and Ezovski to work out a plan for a tour with the police chief.
“The town needs to realize that we need to build a new police station,” Vadenais said. “The question is: when are we going to do it?”
Editor’s note: An original version of the article quoted Councilor Douglas Osier as stating he was, “into the idea,” of a new police station, when Osier actually said he was, “open,” to the idea. We apologize for the mis-heard audio.