North Smithfield secures $375,000 COPS grant; Debate on future of police station continues

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Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski, left, with Police Chief Tim Lafferty

NORTH SMITHFIELD – The federal Justice Department’s Office of Community Policing Services has awarded the town a grant of $375,000, funding officials say will be used to purchase needed equipment for the North Smithfield Police Department.

Town Planner Mark Carruolo applied for funding through the COPS grant program, first utilizing a portion of NSPD’s budget request from last year to assess potential needs.

“I looked at the capital request of the police department and asked the chief what other equipment was needed,” Carruolo told NRI NOW this week.

Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski noted that the annual federal program is not something the town has applied for every year.

“Mark took the initiative to do it,” Zwolenski said of the application.

The town received notice that the federal funding request, submitted through U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, was approved earlier this year. It includes $56,000 for a pickup truck; $13,000 for additional body cameras; $20,000 for a traffic message board and funding for three speed radars costing $3,500 each. The department will also purchase one police drone – used for search missions such as locating a missing person – with the grant, at a cost of $11,000.

The award also includes $64,000 each for four police cruisers, money Zwolenski noted, “might be tight,” in terms of covering all of the needed vehicles.

The positive news comes as the debate regarding how to address major deficiencies at the building that serves as police headquarters continues in North Smithfield.

Last Thursday, Jeff McElvery of Tecton Architects presented a scaled-down version of the $20 million plan to demolish the current police station, a deteriorating former schoolhouse on Smithfield Road, and replace it with a new, modern facility.

The latest design depicted a single-story building, reducing square footage from 21,600 to 14,025, in part by removing a proposed municipal courtroom. The design also showed reduced parking and came with an estimated savings of $3 million from the original price tag for a total cost of around $17 million.

The presentation followed a request for reductions from Town Councilors last month, who cited fears that a bond to fund the facility might not receive voter approval with the higher price tag.

“I am not recommending these cuts,” McElvery said Thursday. “I’m fulfilling the exercise that I was asked to do.”

McElvery noted that neither Chief Tim Lafferty or members of the Municipal Building Review Task Force – the volunteer group guiding the project – had weighed in on the reductions.

This week, Lafferty defended the initial design and the need for a courtroom.

“Two-story was chosen due to the footprint of the building,” Lafferty said. “The town of North Smithfield never built a police station. This is historic, and I think it should be done right.”

“No matter how much money it’s going to cost, it’s an investment,” Lafferty said.

Town Council President Kimberly Alves said she feels steps remain before councilors can settle on the dollar amount for the bond that will move forward.

“I think we need to do some public meetings,” Alves said.

The group discussed the potential for construction grants to fund the facility, and Zwolenski noted that the town applied for grant funding for a station prior to settling on a smaller project to expand Scouter’s Hall. The town was ultimately approved for the lesser $4 million grant to fund creation of a multigenerational center at the property by Pacheco Park.

“That was our first priority,” said the administrator. “That was rejected.”

“They have limitations on how much they can award,” Zwolenski later told NRI NOW. “It just didn’t receive a favorable review.”

MBRTF Chairman Paul Vadenais said his group’s next step will be to look at the reduced plan. Representatives from Tecton, meanwhile, noted that the town has already paid for services that include the expected upcoming community presentations.

“We really need to make sure there’s some kind of public dialog on this,” Alves said.

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