Trust: Air quality test, maintenance needed for Halliwell gym building

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – Local groups anxious to make use of one building at the former Halliwell Elementary School will have to await results of upcoming air quality tests and maintenance projects following recommendations issued this week by the town’s insurer.

A representative from Rhode Island Interlocal Risk Management Trust has provided a list of recommendations for the school’s former gymnasium that includes a complete evaluation on the HVAC system, a look at issues caused by small animal intrusion, air quality tests and more.

The information marks a step forward for efforts to make use of the building, but means that those hoping to host meetings, classes and other events will have to wait until safety concerns can be first evaluated, and then addressed.

The structure – identified as building 10 – is among the less blighted of the former school’s currently vacant spaces. But in a note to Public Works Director Raymond Pendergast, Property Loss Prevention Specialist Kenneth Fogarty stated that evaluations should be done prior to any occupancy.

“This is what I expected,” said Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski of the recommendations. “The building’s been empty for years. Hopefully, this building can be utilized.”

A nine-member committee made up of both town officials and residents is now spearheading the initiative to utilize the 32-acre former school property, vacant since students were relocated at the end of the 2019 school year. The group has already brought forward a project to launch of a community garden on Halliwell grounds, approved by the Town Council earlier this month, and has weighed in on a contract signed with firm Weston & Sampson to provide assessment and consulting services.

At the committee meeting in March, members pointed to the need for an assessment of Halliwell buildings 10 and 11 for possible, “immediate use,” but the timeline will ultimately be determined by the results of upcoming testing.

In addition to a look at possible HVAC and air quality concerns, Fogarty recommended an evaluation of the electrical wiring.

“Rodents tend to chew on wiring, which could result in an electrical fire,” he noted.

On the exterior, needed work includes the replacement of all damaged trim boards, painting and cutting back trees.

“Painted surfaces are less susceptible to small animals gnawing on wood surfaces than unpainted or faded painted surfaces,” said Fogarty.

And while some of the maintenance can be done by municipal staff, other items will have to be addressed by licensed and insured contractors, with requests for proposals and a bidding process.

Zwolenski said the town will begin that process, but the cost to address the concerns remains unclear. The trust has a program that will cover half of the cost of air quality testing, but remediation funding for potential issues such as mold could fall to the town, depending on the outcome.

“It’s all going to come down to the air quality testing,” Zwolenski noted. “That’s what it all hinges on. Everything else is easy stuff.”

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