$18 million police station bond ballot question moves forward in North Smithfield

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – Residents are on track to have the final say on whether or not the town should borrow up to $18 million to fund improvements to police headquarters at a special election this November.

The North Smithfield Town Council voted 4-1 Tuesday night to have bond counsel craft a resolution to send to the General Assembly for approval, as required to get the issue on a ballot before voters.

Whether that funding would be used to construct a new facility, or to perform major renovations to the current headquarters, remains unclear.

Paul Vadenais, chairman of the town-appointed Municipal Buildings Review Task Force spearheading the project, brought an end to the council’s discussion of creating two potential ballot questions – one in favor of new construction and one for renovations – by stating that costs for the two options would be similar. Vadenais said the town can build a new, 14,850-square-foot complex plus an outbuilding for $18 million. Renovations, meanwhile, were estimated at $17.5 million.

“You need to know if the voters are willing to spend money before you can pick the final plan. That’s what it comes down to,” said Vadenais. “All of this is conceptual. These estimates are good faith, honest numbers, but you will never have the accurate, exact number until you go out to bid.”

The $18 million bond is expected to cover a scaled-back version of original plans for a larger, 21,000-square-foot facility first presented by Tecton Architects in 2021. Members of the MBRTF put a hold on the project in 2022 amid a rising and volatile construction market to allow costs to level out.

“Because of escalation, it costs more money to build a smaller building,” Vadenais explained Tuesday of the current design plans.

Vadenais estimated that payback of an $18 million bond would lead to a tax increase of $244 annually on the average North Smithfield home.

The vote to move a ballot question forward follows months of debate – and years of cost estimates and redesigns – of plans for the deteriorating former schoolhouse on Smithfield Road known as the town Annex, which currently serves as police department headquarters.

The project has been at the center of political tensions in town since 2016, when a previous bond-financed initiative to renovate the building was halted – and the board and architect in charge at the time summarily dismissed.

It was a change in direction taken by a newly seated council seven years ago, and the circumstances surrounding that decision – and the fact that bond funding approved by voters in 2014 was never spent on improvements to the building – were still subject to heated debate Tuesday night.

“I voted. You stole it from me,” resident Michael Clifford shot at the group gathered this week.

“They didn’t steal it from you,” said Police Chief Tim Lafferty. “The money was spent on honest mistakes in over-costs. That’s why you don’t renovate. You build new because the costs are more exact.”

The long repeated positions came out following an initiative by Councilor Paulette Hamilton to meet with Eric Army, the architect taken off the project seven years ago. Army provided an update on his firm’s old plans for renovations, to the dismay of many who have worked on more recent, detailed proposals with current firm Tecton.

“This is a total slap in the face to the task force who has years of construction knowledge and experience with public and private facilities of all kinds,” said MBRTF member David Chamberland in an email prior to the meeting. “Our committee hired an architect who is an expert in police station design and construction and has worked diligently with us to provide three options that could be considered for a bond referendum in November of this year.” 

“Do you know how long this took?” Lafferty asked regarding the detailed design plans at the meeting. “I sat with Tecton on two different occasions going line by line.”

“Had we put some money into this building over the last ten years, maybe we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” Hamilton said.

It was Councilor Douglas Osier who pushed for more immediate action this week, noting that the town does not have time to wait for a detailed proposal from Army and still meet deadlines to get a question before voters in November. The General Assembly is expected to break in early June, Osier noted, and costs will only continue to rise.

“The town can’t afford another delay and it would be fiscally irresponsible to do so,” Osier said. “We need to do what is best for the residents and cannot go backwards. We need to use realistic present-day numbers.”

Of those who, like Clifford, have said that the town ignored a voter mandate by not spending funds from the previous bond on the property, Osier added that the 2014 ballot question did not include the word “renovate.”

“From a bond issuance perspective, complete renovation at the Annex was not a mandate, and while it may have been discussed in a plan by the council at that time, there was nothing binding to that plan,” Osier said. “Rehabs and repairs have been made and are ongoing, but it is not a sustainable solution.”

“Tecton has the history and experience to get it done correctly,” Osier said. “Waiting to 2024 is not an option.”

Further, he added, members of the MBRTF have recommended Tecton’s work and, “If we appoint people to positions we need to value their input.”

Vadenais said the town might not need to spend the full $18 million.

“That’s a ‘not to exceed,'” he said.

Vadenais noted that construction could start in September 2024 for Tecton’s, “total package,” construction plan, which includes the cost of potential demolition of the old structure.

Hamilton cast the only vote against sending the resolution.

“I’m afraid if it’s rejected then we have nothing to fall back on and we have to start over,” she said.

Lafferty said he has faith the initiative will pass.

“Let the voters decide,” Lafferty said. “The people I talk to, they want it. They’re embarrassed of that building.”

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12 COMMENTS

  1. For the record, I don’t mind a new police station. HOWEVER…are you going to hold my taxes stable for the next 20 years? Yet another special election to push through a tax increase? Where have we seen that tactic before? Oh wait, the middle school 2nd vote which finally won. If this fails, I predict a 2nd special election where it passes by a small margin.

    And to be clear, I don’t have an issue with new…what I take issue with is the lack of prep and understanding when the MBRTF has to explain their position on new to the TC at this late hour because no one is keeping track. Doug Osier (I’m paraphrasing from Tuesday’s meeting) “I assume they did their due diligence on Tecton”…wait, why don’t you KNOW they did?

    As residents, we should have predictive software showing us what our taxes will be from this project and EVERY OTHER BOND for the next ten years. Only then can we make an informed decision!

  2. First we need a new police station the existing one is a shame to this community. Second do people realize that this amount also includes demolition of the old police station. Third $244 a year is not that bad, people spend 10 times more than that on coffee every year. It’s time we step up to the plate and make this happen. VOTE YES ON A NEW POLICE STATION!!!

    • Excellent! So $244 a year times 20 years? I’ll send you my portion of the increase then. SOLD!

    • Just so you know the increase is closer to $500 per year and they forgot to add all of the additional operating cost related to the new technology.

      • Can you show us the math on your projection please? I am not saying it’s right or wrong, just want to see how you get there. Just saying it doesn’t make it true.

        • John here is the math I do not understand. The bond with principal and interest is approximately $1.5 million annually which will increase the budget by 4%. Now the overinflated school budget will want the maximum 4% increase so how do you tell the school department union and the police union that they are getting zero so you can pay for the new Taj Mahal police station and stay below the 4% cap. Wait you will just exceed the 4% cap and violate the law with no consequences.

    • Tell that to the elderly esp or disabled, retirees, or single parents….those living on fixed incomes….every extra tax increase is a sacrifice of something else. And do not forget that does not include other possible tax increases, ins increases, cable increases, oil, gas, electric, food, meds, rent, etc, so please add that all up in the big picture of things for these folks. Their daily struggle is increased.
      The price and size of this needed police station needs to be decreased, it is too elaborate in its current design.

  3. Douglas Osier has been a big disappointment as a town councilman. Douglas campaigned under a fiscally responsible campaign but now is in favor of large spending and tax increases.

  4. A brand new build is to be done at a cost not to exceed $18,000,000, but a renovation is estimated at $17,500,000? It’s like “Love it or List It.” Hillary is going to do everything that your heart desires until it is not enough money, and you will not get the new bathrooms or the kitchen. And David is going to show you the home of your dreams, with all the bells and whistles!

    Data obtained from the chief’s annual report to the town indicate that crime is down and violent crime in this community is essentially non-existent. The vast majority are nuisance crimes emanating from Dowling Village and the two hotels on 146. We seem to have no problem attracting officers. The pay, benefits and overtime paid are generous. I don’t see many of them leaving to find opportunities elsewhere.

    Does the building need renovation? Absolutely! But not to the tune of $17,500,000, nor does it require a new build. Come to a realistically obtained financial plan to renovate. Lastly, the public should have the opportunity to review both sets of plans. I, for one, do not believe that MBRTF members should have lifetime appointments. And at this cost, with no opportunity to compare the specs, I will be voting no.

    • I have a lot of respect for our Chief but he was way off base in his attack on Eric Army this week and his voicing of opinion on what is best.

      Chief Lafferty is like any of us. If you offer him a new bathroom and say you’ll pay for bath fitters to cover his tub or instead go down to the studs and do a tiled walk in shower and new bath, he will pick new every time. We all would! Frankly, his and his employees opinions shouldn’t be part of the decision. Inherent bias is real here.

  5. In looking at the Provincetown Ma new police station and costs, much less, larger building, this disappoints. They underwent similar disagreements, but the final project is moving forward. Check it out. Cannot deny Tecton is far more expensive, for less space. NS needs new, but at this price?
    Google, you will see….compare value, design, overall cost and size.

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