House approves spending bill with $4 million to convert Scouter’s Hall into ‘full service senior center’


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.

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  1. If the land was donated explicitly for scouting someone should check the deed or have a title search done.

    • The land was donated from the Kendall corporation to the Slatersville Scouting Association, who from my understanding eventually secured donations and grants to build the building and later expand it, as the intended home for Scouting. Scouting being run by volunteers, and constantly turning over leadership was not in a position to manage the property, so I believe they turned the property over to the library, with an understanding that it would continue as venue for scouts and other youth groups. For reasons I don’t know, they turned the property over to the town. I’m not claiming that scouting owns the building, just that the intent and legacy of those worked or donated to make a permanent place for Scouting in NS should be honored. I believe Ray Pendergast has binder documenting the history of the site, which is probably more accurate than my third hand information. I’m all for the seniors having space there (they have been for years), just don’t barrel over the scout groups that call Scouters home, Troop 1139, Troop 438, Pack 7, and the Girl Scouts.

      • I understood you weren’t claiming the scouts owned the land or building. I was suggesting that there may be restrictions in the deed which are still in effect. If they were in the original deed and were referenced in subsequent deeds when the property was transferred, the scouts might have a legal right to continue using the building which the town would be obligated to honor.

  2. I won’t claim to be well versed in press releases or grant proposals but I would assume that the congressman’s press release is based on verbiage pulled from the grant request NS submitted and although this is in the very early stages I would suspect that a grant approved based on verbiage in the grant request that may have focused on converting the hall to a full-service senior center with a long term goal of being a multi-generational facility is what the funds would need to be used to create. That verbiage concerns me considering right now the hall is in fact a multi-generational facility and anything that insinuates current state instead becoming a long term goal raises a lot of red flags. Just like the courthouse being there was only supposed to be temporary yet it is still there impacting the space and days that used to be available to the various scouting units. Mind you I say this as a unit leader who is struggling to find days/time slots for all of our various scouting units to hold their meetings starting in September.

  3. With language from Cicilline’s press release specifically stating “This funding would be used to convert the existing community space, Scouters Hall, into a full-service senior center with an outdoor seating area and walking paths.” I agree with Aaron that the multiple scouting units who use this hall and have some of the most successful scouting programs in the state are not being prioritized for what their needs are of this hall. This hall was built with money and on land donated to scouting and specifically for the use of scouting units and I fear this purpose is being lost more and more each year. The BSA units are no longer chartered by the church and rely solely on this hall for their meetings and the GSA units have consolidated regionally to North Smithfield. While I like to be an optimistic and think an expansion to Scouters Hall could benefit all the scouting units who use it on a daily basis the realist in me sees lots of red flags when the word “convert” to a “full-service senior center” are used. Our units are already lacking meeting space due to court taking over a significant amount of space in the building and utilizing nights that we would normally have been able to hold scout meetings during (and at this point it’s clearly not a temporary move) so I can’t help but see it from the same perspective as Aaron and fear the whole reason this hall was built and the name it carries “Scouters Hall” and the audience it serves and the value it adds to our community is going to be lost in all of this.

  4. Sounds like Scouts are now an afterthought there, on land donated explicitly for Scouting, and a building funded with donations and grants specifically for Scouting. The town paid nothing for it. Having that location available has been incredibly important to the many hundreds or thousands of North Smithfield scout families over the last forty plus years. Seniors are a wonderful and important part of our community. But please don’t ignore one group to help another.

    • Aaron, I understand your concern however the headline is a little misleading. No fault of NRI Now, that is what was on the Congressman’s press release. The senior center will be an addition to Scouters
      Hall with each having their own space, not a replacement. This is very early and no plans have been put on paper as far as the design but Scouters Hall will benefit with a much needed update as well.

      • I appreciate that John, thank you. I worry that with the excitement and momentum that will come along with creating a senior center there that the scout groups who have quietly relied on that building can get forgotten. And when it becomes a more active and vital senior center than it is now, it will probably have a paid administrator and staff who will naturally focus on their direct mission and gradually squeeze the scouts aside. I would hope that the legacy and history of the building and it’s founding would stay front and center as it expands. I truly love the concept of expanding to create a special place for our seniors. But as a former scout leader I still watch out for them. The various scout programs are great for our kids and for the future of our town.

  5. You’re absolutely right Fiscal Watch, but somehow it feels like a lighter hit coming through the federal government. It’s also not a done deal since the US Senate still has to approve the $400 billion spending package.

  6. A big thank you from a grateful taxpayer to Assistant Town Planner Bobbi Moneghan and Planner Mark Carrulo for writing and submitting the grant!

  7. Great job by Administrator Zwolenski. He saw an opportunity while talking with the Senator and Congressman and as a result it looks like we now have a $4 million grant to build a new senior center, fix up Pacheco Park, and finally build the new the entrance/exit to Main Street. All this at no cost to the Town. Well done.

      • Technically you are correct but I said no cost to the Town not the tax payer. Not sure if you understand how federal grants work but if the grant was awarded to any other town in the state or the country for that matter it would be costing the tax payers of North Smithfield the same amount of money. Some Congressman in California could have secured that grant for a town in his district or Congressman Cicilline could have awarded it to another community in RI and we’d still be paying for it. So better for North Smithfield residents that the money comes here since as you pointed out, we are paying for it anyway.

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