Town officials may hold auction for items remaining in Halliwell buildings

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – The board guiding the project to find new uses for the former Halliwell Elementary School property says there are still items of value at the school, and is recommending an auction to sell off everything that remains.

The property has been vacant since the end of the 2019 school year, when school officials made plans to house potential Halliwell students at other town schools.

“We found that there were quite a bit of items that were left behind,” said Jeffrey Porter, chairman of the Halliwell Review Committee. “It would save on moving costs. The various departments in town can grab what they need, and then that way we’re starting off with a pretty clean slate.”

Porter said items left behind include desks, copiers, shelving, tubs of paint and more. Some, he noted in a letter to the council, may have historic value. Any profits, he said, could be set aside to help set up for future uses of the property.

“There is value to some of that stuff,” Porter said. “They just walked away and they didn’t take anything with them.”

Town Councilor Paul Vadenais questioned if the town can legally hold such an event.

“I don’t think we can have an auction like that,” Vadenais said. “It has to go through the bidding process.”

The city of Woonsocket had a similar event in 2010, when then-Mayor Leo Fontaine auctioned off items left behind in the massive building that once housed Woonsocket Middle School.

Councilor Claire O’Hara suggested that items such as desks could be sold to individuals as a memento of the former school. She noted that many desks were thrown into a dumpster when the school closed.

“I would bet that people would have come and paid $5 to $10 for a desk as a remembrance for their child,” O’Hara said.

“I don’t think we would be opposed to that,” Porter said. “I think we could really get some success in cleaning it out.”

Porter’s board began meeting earlier this year with hopes to help determine the best use for the 32-acre property following a meeting where residents suggested a senior center, office space, recreation facilities and more. The group held a charrette on Saturday, July 24 to provide an opportunity for residents to discuss and collaborate on ideas.

On Monday, resident Laurie Chartier was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board.

“She’s very active in the community. reached out looking for opportunities to get involved with project,” said Councilor Stephen Corriveau. “Her commitment, I find, is second to none. I think she’ll be a good asset to the Halliwell Committee.”

Chartier was confirmed in a 3-2 vote with Councilors Kimberly Alves and Vadenais voting against the appointment.

Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski pointed out that the buildings at Halliwell are currently being checked for mold.

“If we allow people to go walking through there without proper respiration, we could have a liability issue,” Zwolenski said of the potential auction. “I do want this to happen. I don’t want to be a road block that stops this. We should first try to find a good home for this equipment.”

Town Solicitor David Igliozzi said that the first step would be to take an inventory of what was left behind.

“It was my understanding that the school department had made a determination of what was and was not salvageable when they left the building,” Igliozzi said. “I assume there’s nothing of value to the School Department.”

Igliozzi said it is within the council’s authority to determine if the items are of, “little or no value,” and then put the property up for sale.

“You’re not contracting to buy something, you’re offering something for sale,” Igliozzi said.

“The benefit of doing this is that you get the place cleaned up,” said Council President John Beauregard.

Councilors said they intend to further investigate the issue.

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