de la Cruz bill would dedicate $5 million to new Wallum Lake fire station

Sen. Jessica de le Cruz

BURRILLVILLE – Senate Minority Leader Jessica de la Cruz authored a bill this week to appropriate $5 million in state funding to a project to, “rebuild,” a fire station at the Zambarano unit of Eleanor Slater Hospital.

A companion bipartisan bill – H 6123 – has been submitted by state representatives, and comes following a request by local fire officials for money to replace a deteriorating garage, which currently houses trucks that service the area. Operating under the umbrella of the Pascoag Fire Department, the Wallum Lake district utilizes vehicles stored on the hospital property, which currently sit in a 20-year-old structure that lacks heat, and sits on a foundation that is cracking and failing, according to officials.

The de la Cruz bill is sponsored by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, along with Finance Chairman Louis DiPalma, Minority Whip Gordon Rogers and Majority Whip Ryan Pearson, among others.

If approved, the funding would compliment another state investment of $108 million, slated to demolish current facilities and build a new hospital on the property, previously passed in the state budget. The larger Zambarano project is currently in the planning phase under direction of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities & Hospitals, which manages the facility.

“The Wallum Lake Fire Department, located in Burrillville, provides fire protection, emergency response services, and responds to medical emergencies to the Burrillville community including the Zambarano Unit of the Eleanor Slater Hospital,” notes the legislation.

The $5 million allocation would mark an increase from the $2 million previously cited for the project by Pascoag Fire Commission Chairman Christopher Toti. In effort to move the initiative forward, Toti gained support for the new Wallum Lake station from both his commission and the Burrillville Town Council last month. At a meeting, the chairman said plans would see construction of a basic two-bay garage with heating and water, with details to be worked out after the state finalizes their concept for the larger hospital.

“Initially, it was $2 million, but I increased the amount because of the increased cost of labor and supplies,” de la Cruz, a Republican representing District 23 in North Smithfield, told NRI NOW this week. “Any excess funds will be returned to the General Assembly.”

Republican Reps. Brian Newberry, of District 48 in North Smithfield and Burrillville; David Place, of District 47 in Burrillville and Glocester; and Michael Chippendale, of District 40 in Coventry, Foster and Glocester are among House sponsors of the legislation, which also has support of Democratic Reps. Stephen Casey, of District 50 in Woonsocket; Julie Casimiro of District 31 in North Kingstown and Exeter; and Thomas Noret of District 25 in Coventry and West Warwick.

The funding bill notes that Zambarano, “provides outstanding health care services to those Rhode Islanders who are in the greatest need, including geriatric patients, patients with developmental disabilities, patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and those with spinal cord injuries.”

The legislation was submitted on Friday, March 3 and referred to the House Finance Committee.

Editor’s note: The above has been edited from its original version to give credit to Senator de la Cruz, who authored the bill.

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