NORTH SMITHFIELD – The North Smithfield Town Council will soon vote on a resolution to create a committee, made up mostly of residents, to help to guide the future of the property that once held Halliwell Elementary School.
The decision to create the new board is the latest progress toward creating a second life for the former school lot, a 32-acre, town-owned property on Victory Highway.
Town officials have been working simultaneously on laying out the terms of a separate contract to have a Massachusetts-based firm provide assessment and consulting services for the project.
Councilors voted unanimously to have Town Solicitor David Igliozzi craft the resolution creating the new Halliwell committee, expected back for vote at the board’s next regular meeting.
The proposal to form a board – consisting of nine members, including one councilor, one member of the Planning Board and seven chosen from the general public – was put forward by Councilor Stephen Corriveau.
And if recent discussions of interest in the project are any indication, the nine positions may be highly sought after.
More than 40 residents attended a community meeting last March to discuss potential uses for the property. In November, the Planning Board requested project oversight, with member Jeffrey Porter asserting that their forum would be ideal for community discussions.
Porter said Monday that he now hopes to serve on the new committee.
“I think I have a lot to contribute, being an architect and also having past experience with this, with my field of work,” Porter said
Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski, meanwhile, requested the authority to appoint one resident.
Corriveau said he hopes to be the council representative, but Councilor Claire O’Hara, a teacher at the school for more than three decades before it closed in 2019, said she might wish to serve.
“Having worked there, having kids who went there, I have a vested interest,” O’Hara said.
Council President John Beauregard said that everyone will be welcomed to give input at the new board’s meetings, along with the nine voting members.
“You’d be more than welcome to attend the meetings at any time,” Beauregard told O’Hara.
Beauregard noted that the tentative contract with Weston & Sampson Engineers, Inc – the firm chosen to provide an assessment of current conditions at the former school – stipulates that consultants will hold two public meetings on the project, but that he would like to see more gatherings held with the new citizen board.
Igliozzi said he can look into adding that request to the final contract language. The solicitor also asked councilors what kind of directives they might be seeking from the resident board.
Councilor Paul Vadenais noted that there’s an immediate need to secure the property, and know which buildings might remain, and which will be demolished. The California-style campus features several structures in varying states of deterioration.
Weston & Sampson, Vadenais noted, can focus on a long term plan, looking at how the property can be developed to serve the community.
“It’s not a simple thing,” Vadenais said. “It’s not properly set for public use right now. There’s two pieces to it. There’s a short and a long term commitment to this project.”
Igliozzi said that the new committee’s term could run in synch with the council’s, expiring in two years with the new election cycle. The Planning Board, meanwhile, would recommend their own representative, according to the resolution discussed this week, which the solicitor will draft for final approval.
“I’ll have a resolution on your desk by the next meeting,” Igliozzi said.