NORTH SMITHFIELD – A roughly ten-foot-long crater now marks the corner of a parking lot at North Smithfield Town Hall, damage incurred on Monday, Feb. 14 as municipal staff worked to clean up after the latest snow storm to hit northern Rhode Island.
The blacktop collapsed beneath a plow truck, forming the massive hole, and pulling in the equipment and driver from the Department of Public Works.
“One of my foremen was cleaning the parking lot and it just kind of sank,” said DPW Director Ray Pendergast. “It just collapsed under him.”
The lot, used by town workers, residents visiting municipal offices, and others attending meetings in the Town Council chambers of the building, was not part of a roughly $4 million project to renovate the property completed in 2020. The work included a $4,250 line item to seal coat the surface, an effort Pendergast said does not appear to have included filling the dozens of cracks that mark the lot.
“I’m not sure why it wasn’t addressed,” Pendergast said. “They seal coated it and made it look pretty. I guess they wanted it to look nice for the grand opening.”
“Fortunately, it was one of us, and not a resident trying to go in for a meeting,” he added, noting that his foreman was not injured in the incident. The director called in a second public works truck to pull the plowing equipment out of the hole with a chain.
Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski said that officials were planning to address the deteriorating parking lot as part of the town’s annual road paving initiative this spring with funds still remaining from the Kendall Dean bond, but it will now need to be repaired immediately.
“I’m really concerned someone is going to twist an ankle and fall,” Zwolenski told NRI NOW. “This is going to need to be addressed as soon as possible.”
It is not the first issue to plague Town Hall staffers since the building opened in May of 2020.
The brick structure at 83 Greene St. once housed Kendall Dean school, and was rehabilitated into modern town offices through a project led by the town’s Municipal Buildings Review Task Force under the direction of former Administrator Gary Ezovski.
Contractor Calson Construction Corp. of Johnston was hired to renovate the building at a cost of $3,018,902 in 2018. The original agreement included full interior renovation of the structure’s three floors, including new electric, plumbing, heating, windows and more, and was set to be completed in one year.
But after months of legal maneuvering over incomplete work, the town ultimately reached a settlement with Calson in March of 2021 that saw a total of $3,956,905 paid to the contractor, plus a $250,000 settlement.
Asked if there have been other issues with the building, Zwolenski noted that a person fell walking through the parking lot one night due to inadequate lighting, which has since been added. When he first took over the space in May of 2020, black water came into the building every time the toilet was flushed, which was remedied thanks to staff from the town’s Water & Sewer Department, who brought in clean water lines from the street to replace pipes that were, “totally rotted.”
“No one could drink the water,” the administrator said of his first months in the structure. “It was not healthy.”
Zwolenski noted that there’s been seepage of water into the building’s walls, as well as pooling of water in certain areas, which was remedied by realigning down spouts. Wiring had to be added to an outside brick wall, and the computerized programable heating system was not working properly.
“Last winter, it was very cold,” Zwolenski said. “All of the workers had little heaters under their desks to keep them warm. That’s all been corrected.”
Elevators were also accumulating water before a contractor came out to fix it, and an uncapped sewer vent in the basement made the building smell.
In addition to the parking lot project, the administrator is currently working to address the latest issue of lifting floor tiles in the Town Hall basement. Calson reportedly agreed to come out and look at the problem, and now, subcontractor Florio and Sons Flooring is expected to evaluate the issue in the near future.
“If we don’t catch it now, it’s going to get worse,” Zwolenski said.
The administrator did not mention a few issues NRI NOW has taken note of in the past, including a $28,000 media system that has not functioned well during recent Zoom meetings, and Emergency Management Agency offices that had been left unassembled when Zwolenski first took the helm, which have since been made functional.
For the parking lot, Pendergast said he now needs to evaluate how to quickly address the hole, which is around a foot deep and surrounded by long, deep cracks.
“We’ve been thinking about doing it over for quite some time, and we had an engineer go out there just before the holidays,” Pendergast said. “We were getting ready to go out to bid for road reconstruction, so we were going to roll it all into the same time frame for the spring or summer. Now this parking lot, I’m going to have to address sooner rather than later.”
Asked if the contractor or subcontractors should be held liable for any of the issues, Zwolenski said, “The Town Council settled, so anything from here on out, the town has to pay for.”
Town Council President John Beauregard, who served on the MBRTF, striped the lot at cost, donating the labor. He said the full lot resurfacing will cost around $80,000 and was never part of the planned repairs.
“The parking lot has been in disrepair, and we knew it had to get done,” Beauregard said.
In terms of crack filling, Beauregard noted that for the surface, “It doesn’t really have any benefit if it is too far gone.:
“There were some issues with Calson,” Beauregard said. “I think overall it came out good, but there were some issues I think should have been addressed.”
Neither former MBRTF Chairman Paul Vadenais or current Chairman Paul Nordstrom responded to a request for comment.
For his part, Zwolenski declined to assign blame for the ongoing issues, noting that the renovation was a very large project.
“This is an emergency now,” he said. “For the safety of the visitors and employees at Town Hall, let’s do this right. Let’s just try to get one project done properly – and that would be Kendall Dean Town Hall.”
Editor’s note: The above article has been edited to more accurately represent the size of the hole.