NORTH SMITHFIELD – Fourteen months.
That’s how long it will take to design, build and open a new multigenerational community center at Pacheco Park according to town officials, who took the first tentative steps to get the project moving this week.
The town has been approved for a $4 million federal grant to build the facility, with plans to renovate and expand the building known as Scouter’s Hall.
On Monday, Feb. 6, members of the Town Council voted unanimously to draw up a resolution to create a new committee to oversee the project. Solicitor David Igliozzi is expected to draft a resolution officially creating the board, and residents can apply to serve once the initiative has passed.
The nine-person committee – expected to focus strictly on the center – will include two members of the town’s Senior Citizen’s Advisory Committee, two representatives from the scouting community and two individuals who work in the building trades, as well as three members at large, including a council liaison, according to discussions this week.
And their work will need to get underway somewhat urgently. The town needs to begin construction in May in order to secure the funding according to grant documents discussed this week, and is expected to complete the project by May of 2024.
The grant was one of 15 – and the largest of the bunch – submitted by Congressman David Cicilline and approved as an earmark on the federal budget passed in December. The application for funding, completed by Asst. Planner Bobbi Moneghan and Planner Mark Carrulo, envisions a major addition to the current town building, to include a kitchen to serve meals, a space for health and other services, transportation to and from other locations such as grocery stores, and more.
On Monday, Councilor Douglas Osier expressed concern about getting the work completed in the relatively short time frame.
“I just think we’re going to have a really hard time getting things started,” Osier said.
But Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski assured councilors his staff is prepared to meet deadlines, and noted that an ad hoc committee will help to guide the process.
Prior to announcement of the grant funding, town officials had initially discussed building such a facility on the property that once held Halliwell Elementary School. But with funding options limited, it was Council President Kimberly Alves who first suggested last year the Scouter’s Hall might make a more suitable location.
“It was right in front of us,” said Councilor John Beauregard at the meeting last week. “It was a very good idea.”
Beauregard noted that at least for now, the Halliwell property will be better suited to outdoor amenities, such as new basketball courts, a splash pad and an ice skating rink.
“I personally have changed my opinion on what should go on down there,” Beauregard said. “I just don’t think it’s realistic to believe that we’re going to put a building there.”
Halliwell Review Committee Chairman Jeffrey Porter asked councilors to approve a contract for a master plan for the 32 acre property regardless, noting that document will allow the town to take a long-term view of how to best utilize the land.
“I’m not in disagreement that it should be utilized for open space right now,” said Porter. “It’s a roadmap that we can take at our own pace. It’s not set in concrete.”
Porter noted that the town has already solicited bids for a master plan, but funding to pay for the document was cut from North Smithfield’s budget last year.
Last week, councilors agreed to vote on that issue at their next meeting, and also made clear that a separate group will be appointed to spearhead Scouter’s.
“At the last meeting we discussed having the Halliwell Committee take over the project,” Beauregard said, noting that instead, “The committee would be specifically for the purpose of the senior center and Scouter’s Hall. When the project is over the committee is over.”
Among those expected to serve is Linda Thibault, a longtime advocate for building a senior facility in town and chairperson of North Smithfield’s senior advisory group. Thibault was among several dozen local seniors present on Monday to watch the proceedings.
“I’m very happy that this is finally going to get it done for all of you,” Beauregard said to the group. “A lot of pieces had to fall into place and they all did.”
Zwolenski noted that the new board should also include a first responder, and that Public Works Director Ray Pendergast and the building official will be involved.
The group’s work will focus on a .76 acre plot of land originally donated to the “Slatersville Scouting Association,” by the Kendall family. Citizens and local businesses banded together to build the current structure in 1973 to serve town scouts, as it has done for decades since. 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.
The deed for the property was eventually 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, the structure is expected to be built up and out to accommodate services including blood pressure screenings and assistance with taxes, while the outdoor area will feature a seating area and walking paths.
Councilor Paulette Hamilton questioned who will oversee the work.
“In previous projects of this magnitude, we’ve had a clerk of the works,” she said.
Zwolenski said a project manager will be hired as part of the engineering contract. He noted that one of the tasks for the new committee will be to involve larger public in the process with a series of charrettes.
“We’ve got it covered,” Zwolenski said of the project. “It’s just a matter of time.”
Mr. Beauregard is making a lot of sense. Halliwell should be dedicated for outdoor active recreation. I also like the relevant questions Hamilton asks at council meetings, she doesn’t just play to the crowd like a couple of the others.