Letter: N.S. School Committee should partner with solar developer for parking lot expansion

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In 2011, the town of North Smithfield – and others – was sued in RI Superior Court by a West Warwick woman for injuries suffered at approximately 8 p.m. on Oct. 29 2008, while she was leaving a soccer game at the Dr Paul F. Joyce Athletic Complex. The plaintiff was parked on Providence Pike and walking to her car when struck by a vehicle traveling north. The lawsuit stated in part that there were, “far fewer,” parking spaces than necessary. Unfortunately, not much has changed since then – people still park on Providence Pike to attend athletic contests, and that danger still exists today. 

Parking at NSMS and/or NSHS and walking to the stadium is not the answer to the continuing problem of insufficient parking areas at VMS. The pathways from NSMS and NSHS parking areas are poorly lit and, in my opinion, not easily traversed at any time of day for anyone with physical challenges – and especially at night. And, “dropping people off,” physically challenged or not, in a demonstrably deficient parking area is not a solution – I believe that practice is in no way supportive of public safety or those who require significant physical assistance and care. 

The University of Rhode Island is in the process of constructing a new parking lot at the corner of Plains Road and W Alumni Avenue in Kingston – just west of Meade Stadium and the Ryan Center. This large parking area includes solar canopies throughout, covering the majority of the parking lot. It’s quite impressive, and in my estimation is an excellent utilization of available space to enable generation of solar power. Apparently, URI has been able to get past any concerns around the longevity of the solar installation. Perhaps the facility’s management team at URI could offer guidance and help to support North Smithfield in this endeavor?

For all these reasons, the NS School Committee and town leadership should exhaust all efforts to partner with a developer in this matter, before considering spending in the area of $100,000 – after reimbursement of state taxpayer funds – or for that matter any taxpayer dollars on what is undoubtedly a necessary improvement. A chosen developer – as determined by the School Committee, and potentially without the requirement of a costly bid process – could conceivably present a plan to the Zoning Board at no expense to the town, and any challenges around zoning would then be publicly vetted. One solar developer has already offered to do so. Could there be more?  Maintaining the status quo, especially in regards to the aforementioned lawsuit, plainly perpetuates negligence, as referenced in the lawsuit, and exposes the town to further litigation, and potential personal injury to fans of athletic events in NS.  Why would we not want to increase public safety, improve a clearly deficient site and save taxpayer dollars at the same time?

Tony Guertin

North Smithfield RI

P.S. – I would be happy to volunteer my time in any effort to research URI’s process around their parking lot/solar canopies installation project.  

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17 COMMENTS

  1. I thank you Mr Lombardi for your work with our schools. I support the solar parking lot! I would suggest that in the meantime the grass field near the location of the tennis courts be utilized for parking during these nighttime event with it being monitored by police for potential vandalism. This would hopefully stop the illegal parking and safety hazard. I know the person that was struck those years ago. She almost lost her life and went through hell in a long recovery. Tony Guertin I would also refer you to our daughters college, Stonehill College has had a canopy solar array for some years.

    • Thanks for that info Bob. I am hopeful elected town leadership is following and taking note. We have an opportunity to improve an asset at no cost to taxpayers. Let’s see what (hopefully) multiple developers have to offer – dismissing without investigating is not what this taxpayer and voter considers effective representation.

  2. We are now way off-topic, but just wondering what was your plan for the field? It is easy to be critical when you don’t have to make hard decisions. The turf field was becoming dangerous (as reported) and we could not put down a grass field because of the wells. So the alternative would be to not have a track, football, soccer, and lacrosse field. We would have had a mass exodus of students transfer, which we (taxpayers) pay for, and a total embarrassment to the town. To be clear, I don’t oversee finances in the City of Providence, nice try. I am proud of what I’ve done in the City of Providence in reporting issues without hiding behind a pseudonym. As for what happened before I became Chairman, I do not know but we did everything we could with the budget we were given to get schools looking good and safe as well as concentrate on education. Again, before COVID we were in the top 10. Also, If you were to review meetings, you would see me advocating to get students back sooner rather than later. We did everything we could with the information that was available.

    • Ok let’s get back to the topic. So, you are ok with people knowingly breaking the law that was done for there own safety and are now using the argument of safety when these folks knowing took the risk when they broke the law. Also the additional parking spots are not going to be enough and people are still going to park on the street and at the middle school. So, what have you accomplished except spending money that does not solve the problem. Sounds like a logical decision. Maybe we need to add a course in logic at the high school.

      • Lol, so obviously you want to go back on topic because you cannot answer the questions posed and you are making a joke out of it. Don’t be ridiculous, I do not support breaking the law but as you know the School Department does not enforce laws. I agree parking will still not be sufficient but more spots help and thank you for making your arguing inconsistent. Why not disclose your identity? Also, you may want to take the class you proposed or at least a civic class on the separation of duties in government.

  3. Here is a concept why don’t you just pave the softball field that is poorly or not maintained since some sports are more import then others. Problem solved.

  4. James, if the police did there job and enforced the parking laws no one would get hurt instead of standing around at the games doing nothing. If you need more handicapped spots then mark more spots. I did witnessed serval elderly people in there early 80s who had no trouble walking from the middle school to the football field. I also asked them if they minded the walk and they said no and they added it also avoids some traffic after the game. Also just because all the school committee and a bias select group supports something does not make it right. If you spoke with the elderly and taxpayers not involved in sports they would say something different is important. For example paving roads that are in horrible shape that cause just as much a safety hazard. Drive down pound hill road, 146a, and the front part of Woonsocket hill road and you will see the safety hazard. You have already wasted enough taxpayers money on a football field. It is funny that Woonsocket does not have the same concern at Barry field which is a busier road. Also the test scores where bad before Covid so let’s not use Covid as an excuse. Also you use the word extracurricular just remember it is extra not the main focus of the school. How about teachers at no extra cost staying after school to help with homework or extending the school day to catch up. If teachers really cared they would be open to the suggestion but the union may issue. Since we are behind in math here is a concept, let’s limit football practice and all sports practice to one hour each day instead of 2 hours and let’s have a study hall to practice math during the second hour. Math will be a skill needed in the real world for a students entire life. Also let’s take the surplus money and spend the funds on repairing the build, technology, and other educational materials instead of a parking lot for a handful of games.

    • I don’t believe ticketing our patrons help the situation, I think additional parking does. We speak to different people and have different interactions with patrons. For the elderly and community members, I also support floating a bond to have the site where Halliwell was converted to a senior/community center. Many other things you raise, the school committee has no jurisdiction. Our test scores prior to covid were good (in the top 10) and I know the response “but not as good as Massachusetts” and I agree. They have a different funding formula and different programs but that not the reality in Rhode Island. I have been an advocate for math and reading interventionists for the last 6 plus years and it has made a difference. We have also heavily invested in the school by a fully upgraded lab, Chromebook for our students, replacement windows, HVAC, and many other upgrades. Compare our schools from 6 years ago and the schools look great. We are spending the taxpayer’s money wisely.

      • Mr. Lombardi, I see you support fiscally irresponsible spending on projects in North Smithfield such as sports facilities and senior centers with zero financial analysis done on the long-term impact to the taxpayer. Especially when the town cannot maintain the current infrastructure and roads. I feel you want to make North Smithfield’s financial situation just like the Providence financial situation that you oversee and participate. Now let’s talk numbers about the schools in North Smithfield. From FY2012 to FY2023 the total school spending has increased 31.1% or 2.28% annually (per the North Smithfield FY23 Budget plan) when the enrollment (per RIDE’s data portal) went down -6.7% or -.57 annually over the same last 12 years. So, we have increased spending and reduced class sizes but test scores in math for 2019 are only 55% meeting or exceeding expectations and are now at 37.1% in 2022. The point is that increases in spending do not result in success just look at baseball the top 3 spending teams are not in the world series. I think if we had allocated more spending to education instead of a sports facility, we would have seen better results. What also amazes me is during the pandemic I saw students as a team near the school running in the cold without jackets when we were still doing distant learning. What is amazing is we could not come to school to learn but we can come to school for extracurricular activities. I think the school and the parents have their priorities backwards. Education enables individuals to rise out of poverty and develop socially, physically, and emotionally. Education not only gives us the skills and knowledge necessary to survive, but it also gives us the power and sense of self-worth to demand the fulfillment of our human rights. Let’s focus our efforts on education and less about extracurricular activities that are fun but are not the foundation of our life.

  5. Concerned Citizen, the primary issue is parking which was expressed unanimously by the School Committee and most people I spoke with. The elderly, handicapped, and patrons should have access to games and not from the Middle school parking lot. I don’t know what games you went to, but the ones I went to there were cars parked at the middle school and on the street. Signs don’t work when someone loses their life or is seriously hurt. I was not concerned about the cost of the solar fails as we would have the bond to remove it and a free parking lot. Had we gone forward, the project would have been bid. We do and will focus on test scores and will continue to. I have no issue with sports, band, choir, and other extracurricular activities, they saved some of our children from the horrible effects of COVID. If you can help us in education, I invite you to the next School Committee to let us know what else we could do and how we could have avoided the pandemic. Also, I assume you must be or were all-American in sports with your comment on the football team, if you could help the team please email me.

  6. What Tony neglects to say is that URI had to change their original site to a site further away, due to water concerns. They had hoped to site the parking lot adjacent to the Fine Arts Center, but were informed that they could not for that very reason (water concerns). This is exactly the same issue that would prevent a solar canopied lot near the football field. The area is located in a wellhead protection area and is on town owned property. As such, it is prohibited by our own Zoning Codes. Mr Lombardi at the joint meeting, stated that he was aware that it would not pass zoning. It would appear that they have chosen a different option as evidenced at the last School Committee Meeting. We will get the parking area that will enhance safety for all, but not necessarily the parking lot or developer, that a few in this town want, including Tony. Apparently, Green Development chose not to pursue the due process required for this project, otherwise they would have jumped through a few hoops by now and they have not. I am pleased that the NSHS Administration and the School Committee are doing the right thing.

    • Let’s try this again Mary:

      “According to (Abigail Rider, VP Finance and Administration at URI), there are wetlands at the top of campus around the Fine Arts Center and the Kingston Emporium, preventing URI from having any construction in those areas. Because of this, the University had no choice but to build this new lot at the bottom of campus, across from Plains, according to Rider.”

      “We’re not building parking at the upper end of campus because we can’t,” she said. “What we’re doing is trying to make sure that we have enough parking overall.”

      “Since URI wants to produce as much solar energy as possible, the University saw this new parking lot as a “perfect opportunity” to expand the solar panels, according to Rider. The opportunity to add more solar panels and more parking serves as a “win-win,” Rider said.”

      I can Google too Mary. Have you specifically delineated the wetlands areas that border the existing parking area? I am not familiar with them. Perhaps you are mistaken?

      And you neglected to address cost to taxpayers for improvements if we are not to consider another private/public partnership. I say another, because the construction of the bathrooms, concession stand and press box at VMS is a tremendous asset for the entire town; did not require a single dollar of taxpayer funds; and continues to be a sore point for all those in NS who want to keep us down. Yourself included.

      • Yes, Tony, thanks for getting the quote right, you just happened to forget that in your last two posts. Obvious, you can google too, but tend to leave out facts. No one wants this boondoggle, but you and about ten people…even the SC has chosen other options. What’s in it for you? Naming rights? We gave Green Development the entire rights to solar by creating a new damn district for them….the least they could do is build the damn concession stand. As I have stated time and time again, let them jump through the damn hoops that everyone else would have to do. By the way Tony, take a look at our Zoning regs and the outlines of wetland areas, wellhead protection areas, etc., and if you find a loophole, let us know. In the meantime, we need no more assistance from you. And by the way, if we have an up and running concession stand, develop a parent’s booster club and if we are going to have people purchase game tickets we can well afford the funding. Keep us down? The only chance of lifting us up is getting new people into office, that follow rules and regs and invite and engage community membership by all, not a select handful….if you want to keep pushing this, do Green Developments work and jump through the hoops for them. Oh, and google some maps while you are at it. Better yet, ask why the SC will not proceed.

        • Mary – are you familiar with the NSAA? I helped to start it. And what’s in it for me? Not a damn thing beyond a better NS. Thanks for asking.

          • Yes, Tony I am familiar with it. I am familiar with a host of non-profit organizations and served as the Executive Director of one in Providence and in Warwick for many years. In fact, my entire career has consisted in working for non-profits. People often will ask me for information regarding donating to non-profit organizations. I tell them to view Charity Navigator or Guidestar to view their missions and financials. I am happy that you brought non-profits up as there seem to be a few in NS that are in existence, but do not file 990’s or a 990N, which they are required to do. I do believe that NSAA does file and clearly states their mission, so I will consider a donation in the future, knowing that funding is accounted for and distributed as per their stated mission.

          • To clarify, I confused NSAA with NSYSA. The Youth Soccer Association files necessary IRS requirements, but I could find none from the NSAA.

  7. Tony, if you go and look at Providence Pike there are no parking signs I will send you a photo if like. Also what is the long term cost and issues that we may face in the future with solar panels. I would also like to know why this company is willing to build parking spaces at no cost to the school. Maybe you should also do some research on this company as I see many complaints on the internet. I have also been to some football games this season and there is more than ample parking at the middle school and yes you have to walk a bit but people have no problem paying $50 and walking a mile for a Patriots game. Your obsession with football and sports is troubling. Why don’t you focus on the subpar test scores, education, and the poorly maintained school facilities before we waste our time and money on a parking lot. Also if you feel so strongly about the idea why don’t you post a bond at your cost for any future issues that may arise over hidden costs during the next 15 years related to the solar panels.

    Also how is the football team doing this year?

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