NORTH SMITHFIELD – The board tasked with overseeing the effort to reuse the Halliwell Elementary School property has determined that most residents want to see some type of community center created in the space, and is now looking to modify a contract with a firm the town had planned to pay to identify potential uses.
Halliwell Review Committee Chairman Jeffrey Porter told the Town Council this week that the town will save $8,550 by removing a clause requiring engineers from Weston & Sampson to, “conduct local and regional market analyses to identify viable uses (both public and private) for the site.”
“Weston & Sampson was kind of putting on the brakes for this portion of their scope of work, mainly because of our surveys that we put forth and the information that we’ve started to dive into,” Porter said.
“The town would really like to see some sort of a community center in some capacity,” Porter said. “We felt that having Weston & Sampson further explore what viable uses may or not work down there was not really worth their time and our money.”
The request comes just as the Reading, Mass.-based consulting firm delivers a report with their assessment of the town-owned lot that held the former school before it was closed in 2019. Weston & Sampson was initially scheduled to present the assessment at a public hearing this week, but the hearing was cancelled because Porter’s committee did not receive the document in time to look through the information.
“I want to make sure our committee reviews it, comments on it,” said Porter. “That way we’re not caught off guard by some odd thing they present to you folks.”
The firm, Porter said, has now completed 80 percent of their work on the Halliwell project, and agrees the clause regarding identifying uses should be removed. The chairman said the group was planning to hire a sub-consultant for that portion of the agreement, which required Weston & Sampson to analyze, “demographic and economic data, regional market reports, plans, and other relevant information available.”
According to the original $83,569 contract signed earlier this year, the firm would have had an engineer, “visit site, economic centers, and interview residential and commercial developers and brokers in the area, as well as economic development officials.”
Residents had a chance to weigh in on the project via a six-week survey earlier this year that received 441 responses. At a community meeting in July, Halliwell Review Committee members noted that 90 percent of respondents want the town to keep the 32-acre property, and would not be in favor of seeing it sold.
For potential uses, senior center was the top response, with mention by 41 percent of survey-takers. Community center was the second most often cited use, at 29 percent, while additional respondents referenced some type of center, without mention of age.
Halliwell Review Committee Vice Chairman Christopher Simpkins explained the proposed contract changes this week in a communication to NRI NOW.
“The committee isn’t done identifying specific uses for Halliwell, but at this point we’ve heard loud and clear that the community wants to keep the property,” Simpkins said. “Amending the Weston & Sampson contract to remove the market analysis portion just means that the town doesn’t have to pay them to review any further public or private uses. Weston & Sampson were engaged to assess the condition and viability of the site through the lens of the community’s needs and wants. With this phase of the project wrapping up, the committee’s next steps are to take those reports and the feedback we’ve gotten from the community and begin to narrow down a realistic, high-level concept for the site.”
Simpkins said the committee will soon be looking to engage with an architectural firm to help flesh out that concept in more detail.
“As the process moves forward, we certainly expect to hold more meetings with the community and seek additional input and collaborative feedback at each step,” Simpkins said.
“Weston & Sampson is fine with it,” Porter told the council of the contract change.
Councilor Paul Vadenais noted that the town cannot amend the document unilaterally, and requested agreement from the firm in writing.
“It’s a two-way contract,” Vadenais said. “We can’t just amend it on our own.”
Town Council President John Beauregard said he wants to hold off on finalizing payments to the firm until after the public meeting.
“The only thing that’s going to force them to come back is if there’s money involved,” Beauregard said.
Porter said his board plans to begin review of Weston & Sampson’s assessment at a meeting scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 7. The council is expected to reschedule a hearing, where the work is presented to the public, in the upcoming weeks.