House bill for new Wallum Lake fire station fails, de la Cruz pushes for funding

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BURRILLVILLE – The Rhode Island General Assembly wrapped up its legislative session last week, but whether or not the state will allocate funding to one major project in Burrillville still remains unclear.

Minority Leader Jessica de la Cruz’s bill to dedicate $5 million to a project to rebuild a town-based fire station passed the Senate unanimously. But a companion bill in the House sponsored by Reps. Brian Newberry, David Place and Michael Chippendale never made it to the floor.

The bill would have earmarked funding for construction of a basic fire station at Zambarano Hospital, to house trucks for the Wallum Lake Fire Department, which serves the facility and surrounding area under the umbrella of the Pascoag Fire District.

Still, “there is a silver lining,” de la Cruz told NRI NOW this week.

The senator noted there is funding for the Burrillville fire station project in the state’s Municipal Public Safety Infrastructure Fund, an $11 million account that also holds allocations for plans in Woonsocket and Foster.

“Unfortunately these funds could be redirected, leaving Burrillville without the intended financial support,” de la Cruz said, a Republican who represents District 23 in North Smithfield and Burrillville.

If secured, the money would be used to replace a deteriorating garage on the campus, a division of Eleanor Slater Hospital, which currently houses the fire trucks. The Wallum Lake district utilizes vehicles stored on the hospital property, which currently sit in a 20-year-old structure lacking heat or running water on a foundation that is cracking and failing, according to local officials.

Sen. Jessica de le Cruz

“The garage provided to house fire apparatus is no longer adequate to continue providing sufficient fire service for the hospital and surrounding community,” notes a resolution on the initiative passed by the Burrillville Town Council in February.

The resolution notes that without the garage, the nearest fire station to Zambarano is 4.5 miles away.

Plans for the new station anticipate construction of a basic, two-bay garage to replace the structure, with details to be worked out after the state finalizes their concept for the larger hospital. That project, which marks a separate $109 million state investment in the facility, is currently in the planning phase under direction of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities & Hospitals, which manages the Eleanor Slater hospital system.

But de la Cruz noted that final decisions on how to spend money available in the infrastructure fund are still pending with the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance. And if there’s a competing project in Rhode Island that’s already shovel-ready, the funds for Burrillville could be diverted.

The senator said she’s fighting not to let that happen.

“I am fully committed to ensuring that those funds find their way to Zambarano and will work tirelessly to safeguard our interests and ensure that the funds that were initially intended for Burrillville are utilized for the hospital project,” de la Cruz said.

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