NORTH SMITHFIELD – For years, school officials and the parents of student athletes have wanted to see improvements to the athletic facilities at North Smithfield High School, with the addition of proper bathrooms and concession stands to the game day lineup.
Now, thanks to a collaboration between school leaders, town officials and one private developer, that long hoped-for project is nearly complete, with a brand new building by the football field waiting to greet next school year’s fans.
A ribbon cutting for the structure, built by North Kingstown-based Green Development, LLC, has been scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 3. The event, which starts at 4 p.m., will include a barbecue with hot dogs and hamburgers for visitors, cooked, of course, on the new amenities.
Town Council President John Beauregard, who first suggested including the project as part of a PILOT agreement with the solar developer in 2019, met with the construction team on Friday, July 15 to iron out final details on the building.
“He’s a builder, so I knew that his costs would be a lot less than if we went out to do it,” Beauregard said of Green founder Mark DePasquale.
The unique agreement between Green and the town put the construction project as an alternative to a one-time payment of $286,000, one element of a tax treaty for company’s 38-megawatt solar farm on Iron Mine Hill Road. In a deal hashed out as part of an approval process for the array, DePasquale agreed that he would build new bathrooms and concession stands at the field, and if the work came in under the designated $286,000 figure, he would cut the town a check for the remainder.
But Beauregard said costs to date for the structure cost the developer around $600,000. The biggest challenge and the cause of some delay, he noted, was the effort to secure permits from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to tie bathrooms into the septic system, also shared with the neighboring middle school.
“We had to show that the system was operating well under capacity,” he said.
The effort was complicated when COVID-19 hit the region in 2020, resulting not only in less use of school bathrooms, as students were learning from home during initial system testing, but also additional of cleaning chemicals that temporarily threw off its balance, according to the council president. The building team would ultimately have to wait until the system normalized, resulting in multiple delays before a permit was finally issued.
Ultimately, Beauregard said, the current system was proven to be more than adequate for the additional usage, aided by the fact that, “when there are events at the field, chances are, school is out.”
When the group finally cuts the ribbon on the project next month, the event will mark a long-awaited victory for proponents. Beauregard noted that North Smithfield Athletic Association members Tony Guertin and Bill Nangle first petitioned him for the facilities back in 2017.
“It wasn’t even on my radar,” Beauregard said.
That year, the council put aside $100,000 for the school project during budget season at the council president’s urging, well knowing it might take many years to bring it to fruition. But in 2018, Beauregard lost his re-election bid, and for the council, the effort to improve athletic facilities fell from focus.
Still, he notes, the NSAA team didn’t let up.
“Tony was on me constantly until his goal became my goal,” Beauregard said.
The following year, Beauregard appeared before the new board – in the midst of negotiations for the massive solar farm – with the unique idea for a collaboration with Green. The deal was ultimately approved, and in the 2020 election, Beauregard won back his seat.
And in February, Green broke ground at the field.
At the same time, the North Smithfield School Committee approved a plan to expand athletic offerings at the high school with a new throwing facilities. That project, now underway, combined with the new bathrooms, will allow the school to host invitationals and division meets for the track and field program.
“With the support of the council and the administrator, we were able to get this done,” Beauregard said.
The work was also complimented by a recently completed $1 million project to replace the track and turf field.
“That track is as nice as any track I have ever run on,” said the council president. “They did an unbelievable job with that.”
In the fall, the full package of improved amenities will greet a new group of student athletes, to be used not only for football and track, but also soccer and lacrosse. The structure built by Green includes a new sound system for announcements previously made from the field, and a press box just above 35-yard-line.
“It provides a very good view of the whole field,” Beauregard said.
The kitchen, he noted, was designed with cookware on wheels, to allow food to be cooked on the building’s patio, and avoiding the additional costs for fire supression and ventilation inside the building.
“We’re saving a lot of money doing it that way,” he said. “It’s very effective.”
Refrigerators and freezers will remain inside the structure, which is handicap accessible, and also includes men’s and women’s facilities.
“The press box was the thing I was most impressed with,” Beauregard said in reaction to the work this week. “That wasn’t even something we asked for. The place is beautiful.”
Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski said he’s also pleased with the outcome.
“The entire town will be able to benefit from this,” Zwolenski said. “I want to thank the president for his initiative on this, so families will be able to enjoy it while attending events at the fields.”
Soon, Beauregard will pass keys to the structure over to school officials, who are reportedly working on an operations and maintenance plan.
“For so many years they said it couldn’t be done,” he said. “We got it done, so it’s a big deal. It worked out for everybody. It’s a great asset for the town.”