NORTH SMITHFIELD – Members of the North Smithfield Police Department will have to put up with an outdated and deteriorating station for at least another year, following a recommendation this week that the project to build a new headquarters for local law enforcement be put on hold.
Municipal Buildings Review Task Force Chairman Paul Nordstrom told the Town Council on Monday, May 16 that rising construction costs make it nearly impossible to estimate a price tag for the project, recommending at least a one year delay.
“In this environment, it’s really, really difficult to get accurate cost estimations,” Nordstrom said at the council meeting. “Construction costs continue to rise. Inflation continues to rise.”
The board had hoped to put a bond question for the police station project before voters this November, a move that requires approval from state legislators. But with the General Assembly soon set to adjourn amid an unpredictable construction market, Nordstrom said waiting is the only prudent option.
“We don’t want to rush into things, which basically means, we’re not going to get anything on the bond issue in November,” he said. “There just isn’t a lot of time.”
Part of the problem, Nordstrom said, is that even if timelines were met and the project gained voter approval, it will take time for construction to actually get underway. Under the original plan, construction would not begin until the second quarter of 2023, leaving town officials with the impossible task of projecting distant costs in a volatile market.
The chairman said the bond vote could fail under the current cost estimate due to, “sticker shock,” or worse – get underway, only to see the town run out of money to complete the work.
Nordstrom noted that developers of other projects across the state, including a long-anticipated soccer stadium in Pawtucket, are grappling with the same problem.
“Maybe things will stabilize,” he said. “After awhile, people get so skittish they stop putting projects out to bid.”
Town officials could delay the project beyond a single year. If the General Assembly were to approve a bond referendum during their session starting next January, the vote in North Smithfield would require a special election.
“We have time to sit back, pause, look at things,” Nordstrom said. “The prudent thing to do is take a step back.”
The chairman did present the latest design for the station laid out by Tecton Architects. The MBRTF first presented a draft version of the project in September, which envisioned demolition of the current building on Smithfield Road, with a new station to be built at the same location at a cost of around $18 million. But councilors asked the board to look at ways to reduce the price tag, and the latest version on Monday saw a 4,000-square-foot reduction in space.
“We’re very pleased with the design,” Nordstrom said. “It’s kind of met all of the requirements. It’s smaller.”
Town Council President John Beauregard noted that the archetect created something that can be utilized later once the town is ready to move forward.
“It’s too volatile,” Beauregard said. “Tecton left us with a product that, at this point, if things don’t settle down for another year, at that point we could pick up right where we left off.”
Councilor Paul Vadenais, who also serves on the MBRTF, said the design is not likely to need much change.
“There’s no extras in there. There’s no fluff in there,” Vadenais said. “These are what your needs are and they shouldn’t change.”
“Now, we’ve got the volatility of the market that’s really wreaking havoc,” Vadenais said. “It’s such an unknown. We’re like, ‘you know what? Let’s just stop. We’re not going to get a good number.'”