NORTH SMITHFIELD – The nine member board appointed last year to explore uses for the property that once held Halliwell Elementary School has completed the work they were tasked with, recommending that structures on the lot be demolished, and that the land should feature a new, single multi-use, community-based building.
But there’s still much work to do before the town can realize that long-term vision, and this week, members of the Town Council voted unanimously to extend the board’s role.
“The Halliwell Review Committee membership has expressed a universal desire to continue the work that we’ve begun and build on the momentum that has been generated by this project,” noted a letter to the council signed by Chairman Jeffrey Porter and Vice Chairman Christopher Simpkins.
The committee worked with firm Weston & Sampson over the past year to gather public feedback on the future of the former elementary school, and determined that all 11 buildings in California-style campus will need to be abated of hazardous materials, and then knocked down. They presented a “final” recommendation last month, which included a general timeline and envisioned the eventual creation of a community center.
Technically, that satisfied terms laid out in an original resolution that created the board.
The general plan, however, doesn’t explain how the town will get there, and questions remain on everything from funding, to exactly what resources a “community center,” might hold.
The board has discussed potential partnerships with organizations including the YMCA, and may be interested in opening a new facility on the 32-acre lot.
“They love the location physically,” Council President John Beauregard said during a discussion on the project in February. “It seemed like they would want to be a partner from the ground up.”
An amendment passed on Monday, March 7 notes that now, the Halliwell board will explore such opportunities for both partnerships and funding, investigate possible uses for wetlands on the property, and more.
The council also approved final payment to Weston & Sampson this week, and Beauregard asked Porter if the board was happy with the outcome of the firm’s work.
“They have completed everything contractually that they were obligated to do,” Porter responded.
Councilor Stephen Corriveau, who serves as his board’s liaison to the Halliwell Committee, said that the group is now looking at how other communities have funded such projects with hopes that North Smithfield might follow suit.
“We’re in the process of gathering that information as a committee,” Corriveau said.
Step one will be an abatement to contain hazardous materials such as asbestos, an element of the project Porter has said the town can complete, “expeditiously,” this year. The town has just under $400,000 already set aside specifically for remediation and demolition at the Victory Highway property.
This week, officials learned that the abatement alone will likely cost more than $270,000. An estimate put the cost at $271,710.
Corriveau noted that the town’s community garden, a resource launched last year that provides fresh vegetables to both volunteers and the North Smithfield Food Pantry, will have to be moved to make way for the work.
Asked of the cost of abatement has changed the timeline for the project, Beauregard told NRI NOW, “I’d like to see the abatement get started.”
When demolition will begin, however, remains unknown.
“I’d like to see the buildings come down, but I don’t know where the money is going to come from,” Beauregard said.
Editor’s note: The above article was updated with the exact amount estimated for the abatement after it was provided. Additionally, we have removed a reference regarding any affect this project could have on YMCA’s Woonsocket location, as officials have clarified their commitment to the city property.