WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman David Cicilline has announced that a spending package approved by the House of Representatives includes a provision to dedicate $4 million to improvements at Scouter’s Hall in North Smithfield.
The grant was among 11 reportedly submitted by the congressman for inclusion in the federal appropriations package, with proposed funding for Rhode Island totaling more than $20 million. While legislators say there is still work to do before the federal budget becomes law, all 11 projects for the state were included in the House funding package passed this week.
The legislation, part of a six-bill $400 billion spending plan, includes funding for Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government, Interior and Environment, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.
In North Smithfield, the grant would be used to convert Scouter’s Hall into a, “full-service senior center,” to include outdoor seating area and walking paths, according to a release on the projects this week.
“The senior center would provide a space where older adults can participate fully in the community, socialize, and receive essential services and assistance,” the release noted. “The long-term goal of the town is to transform Scouters Hall into a multigenerational facility that could be utilized by residents of all ages.”
If approved, the $4 million will be the largest amount allocated to any project in Rhode Island as part of the package, a list that also includes various other community facilities and infrastructure improvements across the state.
Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski said he first began discussing the need for a center with the federal delegation while walking with Cicilline and Sen. Jack Reed in the town’s 150th anniversary parade in May.
“They were asking me what they could do to help the town,” Zwolenski said.
The administrator noted that Linda Thibault has been a vocal advocate on behalf of creating a center dedicated to seniors in town, helping to keep the project in his radar.
“For decades, Linda Thibault has been an ambassador of senior services in North Smithfield,” he said, noting that she supports the idea of expanding services at Scouter’s, if funding can be acquired.
Asst. Planner Bobbi Moneghan and Planner Mark Carrulo submitted the request for a grant to renovate the single-story building, which sits by Pacheco Park, at Zwolenski’s recommendation. The group envisions the structure built up and out to accommodate a kitchen to serve meals, a space for health and other services such as blood pressure screenings and assistance with taxes, transportation to and from other locations such as grocery stores, and more.
“With $4 million, we can build a beautiful, state-of-the-art senior center,” Zwolenski said.
News of the possible funding source comes as town officials have slowed talks of building such a center at an alternate location. Citing high costs for demolition and construction of a brand new facility, those looking at ways to utilize the property that formerly held Halliwell Elementary School have turned their focus toward smaller efforts such as utilization of the grounds.
Zwolenski noted there were limits on how much funding could be requested and qualify under the federal grant, and that rehabilitation of the Halliwell property will require far more resources.
“It would take a tremendous amount of money,” Zwolenski said this week. “Four million would not go far at Halliwell.”
And while the immediate focus will be adding features for seniors if the funding comes through, the administrator said the facilities will also benefit for another group that has long called the building home: scouts. Zwolenski said troops will continue to utilize the property on afternoons and evenings, and envisions the younger residents interacting with the town’s seniors, with expanded facilities providing more services to the older population mostly in the daytime hours.
For now, town officials wait, hopeful to see the project included in the federal government’s finalized budget plan.
“I’m extremely excited about Congressman Cicilline’s shepherding of this grant through the congressional process, and Senator Reed’s continued support that will provide many benefits to our seniors,” said Zwolenski.