WASHINGTON, DC – Scouter’s Hall in North Smithfield will soon get a $4 million upgrade to become a full service senior/community center thanks to an earmark in the recently-passed federal budget secured by the Rhode Island delegation.
Funding for the renovation, approved last week as part of the federal government’s $1.7 trillion spending package, is among more than $22,000,000 in allocations for projects across Rhode Island. The earmarks include a variety of improvements to community facilities and infrastructure and emergency service upgrades, from renovations to the Boys & Girls Club in Newport County at a cost of $750,000, to the acquisition of land in Pawtucket for development of affordable housing with a grant of $2,000,000.
But the grant to build North Smithfield’s, “senior/multigenerational facility,” is the largest amount allocated to a single municipal project in the state.
“This generous funding will be used to provide services, socialization, health benefits, financial advising – all of the things we’ve been doing in ad hoc meeting places – thanks to Congressman David Cicilline, Senator Jack Reed and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse,” said Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski. “It will be a destination for our community.”
Built in 1970s, the building now known as Scouter’s Hall sits on a .76 acre plot of land originally donated to the “Slatersville Scouting Association,” by the Kendall family. According to a history of the hall compiled by former Scout leader Adam Briggs, Troop 1 Slatersville first began meeting on the lot in a structure roughly the size of a storage shed. But the original barn was destroyed in a fire in 1960, and the troop later disbanded.
Citizens and local businesses banded together to build the current structure and in 1973, scouting resumed in Slatersville with the launch of Troop 1139. The hall doubled in size around 1999 thanks to grants from the Levy and Champlin Foundations, the Rhode Island General Assembly and the town, and can now accommodate nearly 300 families.
“Since the expansion, many civic, non-profit, government and private organizations have been using the hall on a regular basis,” noted Briggs in a write-up on the history.
Because Scouts are a volunteer organization, the deed for the property was transferred to the North Smithfield Public Library, and later, the town itself. Today, the single-story building, tucked beside Pacheco Park, is used by multiple scouting troops, and also accommodates municipal court, and daytime programs geared toward town seniors.
Now, it is on track to become a state-of-the-art multigenerational community center with the help of a massive federal grant.
It is an effort that reportedly began with a conversation between Zwolenski, Reed and Cicilline at the town’s 150th anniversary parade last May. Zwolenski told NRI NOW that the federal delegates encouraged him to submit a request for the grant, and soon after, Asst. Planner Bobbi Moneghan and Planner Mark Carrulo began work on the application.
The municipal staff consulted longtime senior advocate Linda Thibault, who submitted a letter of support with the application.
“I’m really proud to have been part of it from the beginning,” Thibault told NRI NOW this week. “Paul’s administration did a great job. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I know how senior centers operate, so I was kind of honored I was asked.”
The project was one of 15 submitted by Cicilline, with support from Reed and Whitehouse.
“I’m proud that all of the projects I fought to include in this bill were passed this week,” said Cicilline. “These 15 projects will help Rhode Island families with childcare and affordable housing, with the development and expansion of community centers, allow for better fire protection, and help us develop a safer, cleaner, and more efficient water supply.”
The North Smithfield planners envision a major addition to Scouter’s, with 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.
According to a release on the grant, the future Scouter’s Hall will also include an outdoor seating area and walking paths.
“The senior center will provide a space where older adults can participate fully in the community, socialize, and receive essential services and assistance,” noted a summary from Cicilline’s office. “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.”
Zwolenski said he plans to form a steering committee with representatives from the Scouts, the town’s Senior Citizen Advisory Committee, public safety, Parks & Recreation and the Public Works Department to help lay out the design and get initial planning off the ground. He also hopes to reach out to other communities with active senior centers for best practices.
“That’s the importance of having a committee,” Zwolenski said.
The administrator noted that taking care of the town’s seniors and veterans, and improving infrastructure were among his promises when he campaigned for the job in 2020.
“When I ran for office, my concern was the infrastructure in the town, and part of that was senior services and a senior center,” he said.
For her part, Thibault described the grant as, “the best Christmas present ever.”
“It was just an awesome bit of news,” she said, thanking the delegation, staff, and administrator for their follow through and, “the great way to start off the New Year.”
“Through the years, I’ve worked very closely with Senators Reed and Whitehouse. And Congressman Cicilline is always at the Woonsocket Senior Center,” she said. “It was nice to work with them again on this. North Smithfield has never received anything like this that I know of.”
Zwolenski agreed, saying he was, “ecstatic,” about the news.
“When one considers all of the deserving projects in the state, it was an honor to be the recipient of such a generous grant,” he said.
The complete list of projects sponsored by Cicilline to be funded through the 2023 spending bill can be found here.