Vadenais pulls for $20 million bond, special election for new police station; Council wants cuts

Members of the MBRTF during a joint meeting with the Town Council in February.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – After years of debate and discussion, town officials have yet to reach consensus on a project to address the need for replacement of the North Smithfield police station, or even how to achieve the temporary measures needed to maintain the station’s insurance coverage.

Municipal Buildings Review Task Force member Paul Vadenais says it is time to begin public outreach in preparation for a special election this spring, where voters will need to approve a $20 million bond to build a new facility where the old one now stands.

But as councilors heard the latest version of the plan on Wednesday, Feb. 15, some said the price tag was too high, and that the town needs a backup plan in case the bond fails.

Those who have followed discussions of the project for the past decade would note familiar political dividing lines that have stalled action for years, while costs for construction have continued to escalate.

“We can’t keep waiting to build a new building,” Vadenais said this week. “There is no other choice. You need to replace that building. The liability is huge.”

Vadenais’s statements followed a presentation by Jeff McElravy of Tecton Architects of the latest concept designs for a new station, to be built on the department’s existing site on Smithfield Road.

McElravy noted that the cost of construction has increased since his firm’s last presentation of a plan last year, which featured an estimated a price tag between $15 million and $16 million, a scaled-back version of an initial design from September of 2021 set at $18 million. The MBRTF ultimately recommended delaying the project last May, noting that post-pandemic price fluctuations had made it almost impossible to nail down a realistic cost.

On Wednesday, task force members renewed their appeal for action under a somewhat more stabilized market with a new estimate of $20 million.

“Costs have continued to escalate,” McElravy said.

The current plan, presented once again in part for the benefit of newly elected Councilors Paulette Hamilton and Douglas Osier, would see the building constructed behind and to left of the existing station, with a new public parking lot built in front. The current station – a repurposed former schoolhouse long deemed deficient by modern policing standards – would be demolished after construction and relocation of operations.

McElravy, who has worked on dozens of similar projects in other municipalities, noted the new layout will make it easier for members of the public to identify parking and entry, an important element when looking at design.

“Police stations can be a little bit intimidating,” McElravey said.

Those walking in to the new station would see dispatch straight ahead, with an office to the right of the entrance to handle records requests, and an interview room to the left. Public restrooms would also be at the front of the structure, adjacent to a new training/community room, where the town could also hold municipal court. The design plan for the two-story station showed space for offices, four holding cells, locker rooms, and a fitness center.

The design also included space for potential expansion, with a flat area above the municipal courtroom where an addition could accommodate future growth.

McElravey noted that actual construction of the station would cost $16.6 million, with the remainder of the funding set aside for elements such as engineering fees, equipment cost and a contingency fund.

“In the scale of construction, yours is not a large project,” McElravey said.

But first, the architect noted that the town will need to address immediate repairs to the current station identified by Interlocal Risk Management Trust. Last January, the trust notified town officials that they would no longer insure the building unless repair needs were addressed, and a plan put in place for an eventual replacement of the structure.

On Wednesday, Councilor John Beauregard questioned if operations could instead be housed in double- wide trailers while a new station is built.

“What I have a problem with is pouring new money into a building that we want to knock down,” Beauregard said.

But McElravey noted that, “Double-wides don’t make very good detention facilities.”

Beauregard said that rental of trailers costs around $3,000 a month, and the town could make a temporary arrangement with a neighboring department to serve as a holding facility.

McElravey said that such a temporary setup might be possible, but would need to take place at a different location.

“I think that would be too much to safely handle on the site,” he said.

MBRTF member David Chamberland said it could cost from $200,000 to $500,000 to get the trailers up and running. Still, he said, “It’s worth looking at.”

Osier questioned if a single-story building would cost less, disputing the assertion that it’s not a large project.

“That’s like, half the town’s budget,” Osier said. “It’s a big project.”

McElravey said there’s not enough space on the site to construct a single-story station while maintaining operations.

Others this week went over now familiar questions regarding location – and the need to build at all. Tecton told councilors in 2021 that it would cost only around $1 million more for new construction than it would to bring the current building up to modern standards.

“Really, at the end of the day, the numbers were pretty close,” McElravey said. “It really did justify the new construction option.”

Several questioned assertions by some members of the MBRTF that the current building has been deemed, “unsalvageable.”

“They’ve intentionally allowed the building to deteriorate in an attempt to convince you that the 2014 renovations can no longer be done,” resident Michael Clifford later asserted on social media. “We can spend a fraction of that amount for a complete renovation of the current station and it won’t be just a temporary repair. In 2016, the low bid for a full renovation came in at $3.2 million.”

But Beauregard noted that the building was never meant for its current purpose.

“It’s just not a police station,” Beauregard said. “It’s designed to be a school.”

MBRTF member Teresa Bartomioli said she felt the conversation wasn’t addressing concerns about those who currently have to work in the building.

“I think it’s time to think about them,” Bartomioli said. “We’ve never built a police station. I think it’s time that we really realize it’s time.”

“You can say ‘I support the police,’ but is $20 million the right price?” asked Osier in reply. “It’s not necessarily a black or white decision.”

Vadenais noted that the MBRTF, first appointed in 2016. has already looked at other sites and other layouts.

“I know that Halliwell is the elephant in the room,” Vadenais said of the town-owned property that once held an elementary school, noting the location was disqualified, in part, because it has only one form of egress and sits at the bottom of hill. “That was all done over two years ago.”

Vadenais said it will be easier to address the department’s immediate needs if a bond goes out to vote in late spring.

“We would know if the bond passed or not,” he said. “May or June is an opportune time. One determines other. It’s all contingent on knowing what we’re doing in the future.”

Vadenais noted that the bond would come with an increase of around $260 a year on the average single family home, but that number would soon decrease with the town on track to retire debt of $27 million by 2028.

“It’s kind of lining up in a nice position,” Vadenais said, adding that, “I really believe that it will pass because people know the condition of that building.”

But Hamilton noted that her taxes went up $1,000 following the town’s recent revaluation.

“What’s our fall back if it fails for any reason? she asked.

Councilor Kimberly Alves also remained unconvinced.

“I just think this station is way too big for our community,” Alves said, pointing to smaller police stations in similar-sized communities. “There’s a lot of fluff in this police station.”

Beauregard noted that due to Dowling Village and the town’s proximity to Woonsocket, North Smithfield sees more action and arrests than most similarly-sized communities. Police Chief Tim Lafferty, who was not present for this week’s discussion, has pointed to North Smithfield’s high number of calls and arrests as the reason for the department’s space needs.

“I think it might be a little misleading going just by population,” Beauregard said, adding of the experienced architectural firm, “If they say this is the way to go, in my experience, this is it.”

Osier, however, agreed with the idea that the plan still needs to be scaled back.

“It’s a lot of money and I think we could cut something,” he said.

“We don’t want to build something that’s inadequate from day one,” Vadenais replied.

Hamilton recounted the history of the project, and the results of past attempts to renovate the building.

In 2014, voters approved $5 million for renovation to the current station as part of a $12 million bond that also addressed other needs in town. But in 2016, a new council took over and, “Everything stopped,” Hamilton said.

“The money that was supposed to be spent on bringing that build up to code in 2016 is being used just to keep it alive,” Hamilton said. “They asked for the renovation. We gave them nothing.”

Vadenais repeated the often-cited response used to justify the change in direction eight years ago.

“The funds never matched the scope,” Vadenais said. “Now, we have what we believe is a firm number.”

Still, Hamilton questioned if the bond will pass – considering the town’s past record on delivery.

Tecton Architects

“We can’t force people to do it,” she said. “We have to have a rational backup plan.”

Alves, Hamilton and Osier all asked for time to check in with bond counsel on how a new $20 million loan will affect the town’s finances.

“We have to do our due diligence,” Hamilton said, thanking the MBRTF and Tecton officials for their work. “It isn’t casting dispersions on anyone.”

“I want people to know we did the best we could to vet out the best price,” Alves said. “Is it going to pass at this price tag? That’s what we’re concerned about. I think we should be prepared.”

The council is expected to discuss the project once again on Thursday, March 9, with Tecton to present options for a single-story building as wells as a two-story structure with reduced square footage.

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  1. It’s the same stuff all the time, truthfully we are the Town that has become all talk and no action….let’s take one thing at a time. Get Scouter’s Hall done, review our planning for Halliwell and rehabilitate the NSPD. Yes, we were sold the Taj Mahal by the previous TC. We need a substation within Walmart or near the hotels as that is where the majority of crimes are committed. And, there is positively no need to pay for a built in gym at the station. Every health care plan in the country, especially those that cover unions have reimbursement for health, wellness and gym memberships. Let them go to the Y or Planet Fitness as I have always done. I am thankful that new individuals are watching and are mindful of taxpayer dollars.

    • If that’s true I’m gonna have to look into my previous health plans I’ve had to see if I’m missing out on money. I don’t think my current plan actually offers it, just discounts like 10% or so off.
      Yes one thing at a time, too many projects at once and people and council lose sight on what’s happening in town and people’s needs.
      Like for instance, Beauregard has yet to apologize or send a response email, must be extremely busy.

      • Bryan Murray, you just can’t help yourself, JB is in your head. He is in almost every comment you make on social media. His previous comment about you may have been correct. I don’t think there is an apology from him coming your way. Go confront him at a meeting about your issues, not all your issues (you may need a professional for those) just the ones involving him or get over it. At least Mike Clifford, who also has an unhealthy obsession with JB has the guts to bring up his issues at council meetings. And sometimes he even makes sense, and although unlikely maybe you will too.

        • Had to, was an easy target, just beating this dead horse of what has now turned into a running joke for him. That joke has jokes on it. If the meetings were able to work within my time frame, I would be at them, an informed town is a collaborative town.

          • I think you are just a chicken who doesn’t have the courage of his convictions, and so do a lot of people. You are afraid to go to a council meeting and say the things you say when you are hiding behind your keyboard. I think you are afraid to call out JB publicly because it is you who will be called out. You should just stick to talking about things you clearly know nothing of like roads and police stations.

            • Not afraid, just family and work take precedence, as I can’t be in more than one place at a time. Sometimes I’m not even in the same state during these meetings as travel is required for work on occasion. I try my best to juggle that as I can, but these long hours defending your right to harass people on here does take a toll.
              I would welcome the chance to debate him again, but he has declined to do it on social media for the public eye to see and it made him look really bad, more so than usual, last time. Former council member Corriveau had also declined following Beauregard’s footsteps and has refused to debate in the public eye once again with me, no email response either from him.
              I welcome all members of the town, especially the council, to debate/ask questions with/at me. That would show that they are actually giving the proper time to listen to the town and what some people are dealing with in town, or maybe just shedding some light on a subject that they didn’t know about, or it’s the same issue but seeing it from a different point of view.

        • It seems as though anyone who ever makes a negative comment about John Beauregard is labeled as having an “unhealthy obsession” with John. Maybe the issue is John’s propensity to make so many idiotic suggestions and has distorted priorities for the Town, like his most recent initiative to build a Splash Pad Park. “Jimmy Tessier” you seem to have an unhealthy obsession yourself when it comes to John. Every time someone posts a comment about John on this page you jump on to defend him. You don’t seem to have any other concerns other that defending John. Are you John using “Jimmy Tessier” as an alias or are you one of his pitbulls? Does John pay you to post and defend him? Why are you “hiding behind a keyboard” using a bogus name? Do you consider yourself to be a “chicken” too?

  2. BM: “Will this new station bring in businesses to even out the rise of the tax burden we taxpayers have to pay?” ONE of the best questions asked yet. I think we do need a new station, but NOT at $20 million. First it’s let’s get a huge turbine in and we can be the town with the tallest, then solar came. Now NS has one of the biggest solar farms. And now, what Pat said, the “Taj Mahal”? I was shocked when I saw the architect’s rendition of the police station. OMG. Does the $20 mil account for upkeep? Maintenance? Scale down the project. My dad’s turning in his grave. David Whalen said it best,”let’s look at it as if it was our own money”. Why is there a workout room? Just asking.

    • I may rant every now and then or almost always, but in my rants I do ask good important questions most of the time.
      I have a work out room at my place of employment, it’s needed every now and then to blow off steam/clear your mind from a very difficult task (during lunch time) or… for after work when you don’t want to go to planet fitness (or any other gym) and just need to fight off a heavy lunch before dinner time at home. A gym doesn’t cost that much though, and I’m sorry I grasped onto the last question and ran with it.

      • Zero cost benefit for a GYM for every now and then. But the police have lots of time to travel to Dunkin but not a GYM!!!!! How many more benefits do these people need? Maybe we should be paying for there car and home loan.

          • The gym is still a need from the stuff I pointed out earlier, but they are required to be physically fit. As such as my place of employment, they have the option of passing a physical fitness test or failing it, and if they fail it with the gym right there no excuse. I said every now and then to blow off steam, I know some people that go every day for an hour and I know a few people that do 1 hour a week. The cost benefit is to make sure they can run after criminals who jump into chicken coops and hiding in boats that are stored for the winter on properties, or the chance they have to run through the woods to catch people. Fit people take less time off than less than fit personnel, they also have lower health premiums and such, meaning fewer days off, fewer sick days, more time overall on the road catching bad guys or catching motorcycles/other vehicles for being too loud.

              • A gym shouldn’t be in the millions, should only be close to….. 50k at most or so, and that’s at retail prices. Plus planet fitness has the lunk alarm, sometimes you just need that finishing grunt to finish the set. Plus that’s 33 people if I counted correctly, times that by $20/month times 12 months foe the year…. you’re coming out to ~8k and if you’re on the force for about 20ish years (assuming everyone does in this scenario) is ~160k, don’t have to worry about driving and getting into an accident, as most of the accidents happen on Eddie Dowling. And you don’t have to worry about rates going up or some fee that they add on.

                  • Not if they do it themselves. Which anyone with the correct equipment could do. There’s also the option of the shipping container gym which would only cost 10k at most for one of them obviously depending on the size they want. There’s also the choice of multiple smaller ones for more workout spots for the same price point potentially. If they were to go this option, it would pay for itself in just about over a year, using the planet fitness math I did previously.

    • Aren’t you on the Planning or Zoning Board? Municipal buildings, like schools, town halls, especially police stations are not there to make money, I think it’s a silly question. The question is can the current building be rehabbed to make it a modern station and if so at what cost? We have to look at the cost of a rehab and what we get out of that compared to the cost of a new building. It very well may be penny wise and dollar foolish to rehab that building. I hope that is not the case but we have to accept that possibility. Let’s face it, most of the people on this page and other pages talking about this do not know the first thing about construction or police stations let alone constructing a police station, and that includes myself. But it seems we have a lot of “experts” dishing out their opinions and making no sense. And again, I am guilty of this to some degree as well.

      • I am on no board, conflict of interest type of deal, I really wish I could volunteer my time to the town. Maybe even make a run at council member at some point in my future.
        I agree those buildings are there not to make money, they are not a business, minus the quotas they may or may not have to meet for goals. I also agree that I hope that is not the case with the rehab.
        Some of those ‘experts’ are also in charge of our town’s financial situation or can heavily influence those members unfortunately, like before. I’m just talking from my experiences though, and the trouble/effort that went in to those decisions.
        I’m glad that council members Alves, Hamilton, and Osier have questioned the price tag associated with the potential new building. Whereas the town administrator and other council members are ready to break the town’s piggy bank and finance the town’s future for this. If it makes sense, it makes sense, but with previous votes on this subject before and the council at the time and future councils after not doing anything to help the building really. I compare this issue to that of McCoy stadium, the owners (the town council) let the stadium (police building) essentially fall apart and wanted a new one or they would move, same type of plan for the current building.

  3. Having seen my own new police station built in my town, I can vouch for tons of wasted space.
    And stay away from flat roofs, a ton of problems there. Out of all the designs, pick one that will not deteriorate as this one is. After all, who is to guarantee, that once built, it will be maintained properly, since the other was not, leading to this situation. Peace out.

  4. It is ridiculous to spend money like that on a new police station. You are asking people for more money, when many are living day to day on the basics. Take a look at the number of seniors working in the grocery markets just so they can afford their medications! We can’t even give the seniors or veterans in this town a decent, well deserved tax break, but we are able to give the best of the best to our Town workers? And is this even the best of the best? What is really important and what is really necessary? Don’t get me wrong, I believe the police deserve much more than they get. Has anyone even asked them if they want a new building or more money in their pockets? For what they have to deal with every day, the answer seems quite clear. Priorities need to be put into perspective in my opinion. We either have the money to spend or we don’t. Everyone has desires but the question is, what are the needs and how can we help?

  5. I don’t want to spend the money on a new police station either if we actually can renovate it for a lot less, although I am not convinced that is possible. I think Mr. Vadnais and Mr. Beauregard simply have a difference of opinion than I do, and I am sure so do a lot of people. I believe in their minds they are trying to do what is best. I don’t think this makes them bad people or they are just supporting unions. Pat, how is it self serving that they want a new police station? How do they benefit from this? And BM, every post you make it’s JB this and JB that, he lives in your head. He is not the reason for all the problems in this town or all the problems in your life, which it appears there are many. I am bothered that I am on the same side of an argument with such a negative group of people.

    • I’ve been quiet as of late, figured it was time to remind people. Still waiting for an apology to myself and the active/veteran community in town and an email from him as well.
      I think that my post was only about 50/50, concern that my tax dollars are not going to be spent in the best possible way for the town and the other half is just highlighting his wrongs.
      I’m glad that we can find some common ground to stand on, even if we don’t see eye to eye on everything that’s going on. Is it really on the side of negative people, or people that have been jilted one to many times by the former councils and bringing up the history and shining a light on it again? I’m really a very positive person generally, even in the darkest dark I try to find the brightest day.

  6. “What I have a problem with is pouring new money into a building that we want to knock down,” Beauregard said.
    Lots of holes in this argument right here. Who’s this “we” he speaks of? He’s been wanting to dismantle that building for many years and has failed multiple times, and now spend more money. What happened to his fiscally conservative stance? Would the price of $20m balloon like most of the other projects we have seen around the state? If it were to balloon, who’s on the hook for the increased price? Is the town ready to spend money we don’t have, where some basic needs aren’t even being met (example – failed roads [based on the estimates from survey done years ago], polluted water, power disruption from a little wind, and others). How will they protect and serve if they can’t even get to us? Will this new station bring in businesses to even out the rise of the tax burden us tax payers have to pay? We still are down two businesses, at least, I believe from last year.
    We still have many legal issues in the town, one involving sexual harassment/assault debacle by the town administrator, to which he was endorsed by Beauregard. So should the town really be listening to someone who is so blind to the current needs of the town with questionable judgment (nike ban, the TA issue, we’ll wait and see about water pollution, harassment against former volunteers, harassment against veterans)? I say no, but I am just one voice, hoping that others see what I see.

  7. I think Mr Beauregard is looking at this project all wrong from his union and political mindset and not thinking about what is appropriate for the town and the taxpayers. It is easy to spend other people’s money with zero consequences. Not everyone in North Smithfield can personally afford luxuries and has to make do with the funds available. If we looked at the project as if it was our own money we would find the most cost efficient was to accomplish the goal of having an adequate police station. The cheapest and best option for the taxpayer is to renovate the current police station at 1/3 the cost and still have a function police state that services the needs of the town. A new police station will not improve police protection so what is the cost benefit of building a police station that is 3 times the size needed. I think if the town should sent a letter to every taxpayer giving an option to spend $500 to $1,000 more in taxes or opt out and not pay taxes for a new police station. I think most taxpayers would opt to pay less taxes. Mr. Beauregard has proven to allow our roads to deteriorate by reducing the roads budget to fund his union buddies raises and police station consultants. I also do not understand why a jail needs to look like the Ritz Carlton hotel when it needs to look like Alcatraz.

  8. Beauregard and Vadnais have been pushing for this “taj mahal” of police stations for several years now. It finally looks like they are going to wear down their opponents and force a vote for this monstrosity on the town. This was a calculated plan from the beginning and will bury us in higher property taxes for years to come. It’s a shame that a few self-serving elected officials have hijacked our town. Good luck to all, we’re all going to need it!!

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