NORTH SMITHFIELD – With a study of the building that houses the North Smithfield Police Department still underway, Town Council President John Beauregard said this week that the question of whether or not new police headquarters should be built will ultimately, once again, go before voters.
The statement follows recent reports of major structural concerns with the building from a consultant hired to evaluate conditions.
The station at 575 Smithfield Road has been a concern of town officials for several years, but previous efforts to renovate the structure never transpired. Rehabilitation of the station was originally scheduled to be funded as part of a $5.2 million construction bond approved by voters in 2014, but years later, those tasked with overseeing the project have said remaining funds fall far short of what is needed.
On Monday, Municipal Building Review Task Force Chairman Paul Nordstrom told members of the Town Council that the latest study of the building kicked off on Thursday, April 1.
Jeff McElravy, a principal for Tecton Architects, the firm hired in January to examine the property at a cost of $48,500, has since stated that the structure does not meet current standards for police station design.
McElravy said that the cost to build a new, 21,000-square-foot station at current rates would be around $16.6 million, in part due to high prices for steel, as well as masonry and drywall, according to reports. The initial assessment precedes a full report from Tecton expected in mid-June, which Nordstrom said will include a conceptual design with updated prices.
“The preliminary estimates were pretty high, but that was just a starting point to figure out where the project is going to head,” Nordstrom said.
Documented issues with the existing 15,500-square-foot structure, once known as Bushee School, include sagging floors, chipping paint, cracked and peeling floor tiles, water leaks, asbestos and more. Built in 1925 as an elementary school, the single-story brick building also served for years as the “Town Annex,” housing municipal offices on one side.
The station’s more pressing issues were initially slated to be addressed with the 2014 bond, but opponents of that project, including former Town Administrator Gary Ezovski, have said that investing money in the outdated structure would be wasteful.
Town Councilor Paul Vadenais, a member of the Task Force, has said the town has about $1.3 million left of the 2014 bond money, used primarily to renovate the former Kendall Dean school on Green Street, which now serves as Town Hall.
Recent efforts to draw attention to the deteriorating state of the police building, meanwhile, have been somewhat unsuccessful. Councilors noted that two open houses held earlier this year only attracted around 15 visitors.
“I don’t think many people in town have gone through the entire building to see what they’re working in,” said Councilor Claire O’Hara Monday of police.
Beauregard addressed critics of the latest effort to evaluate the building, who have said that a new station is not needed, and that the ongoing studies are a waste of taxpayer money.
“It’s important for people to realize that the Town Council – or any elected or appointed officials – will not be making the decision on whether or we have a new police station,” Beauregard said. “That will go before voters in the form of a referendum.”
“The people can decide whether or not we’re going to build a new police station,” Beauregard said.
Appointed members of the MBRTF are expected to continue discussion of the issue at their next meeting, which has not yet been posted on the Secretary of State’s website.