NORTH SMITHFIELD – The Town Council unanimously approved spending of up to $440,000 Monday night for immediate repairs to the North Smithfield police station at the urging of members of the Municipal Buildings Review Task Force.
The decision came despite hopes by some that the town could instead wait to see the results of a $18 million bond question regarding funding for a police facility, scheduled to go before voters this November.
“The reality is, in that particular building, there’s a lot of deferred maintenance,” said Brad Weaver, director of underwriting for the town’s insurer, Rhode Island Interlocal Risk Management Trust. “The trust is willing to maintain insurance as long as the town is moving forward with making the building safe.”
The effort to repair or replace the current station on Smithfield Road has been a source of debate for many years in North Smithfield, with projects that have stalled or changed direction with each election cycle. The town had once hoped to repair the 95-year-old former schoolhouse that serves as police headquarters with a portion of a $12 million bond passed by voters in 2014.
But in 2016, newly seated councilors dismissed the board spearheading the project, instead appointing the MBRTF to handle the bond-financed work, which also included renovation of the former Kendall Dean schoolhouse into what is now Town Hall.
And MBRTF members said the remaining funds were insufficient to cover the needed police station repairs.
Delays since have included a pause to allow the post-Covid construction market to settle and the seating, once again, of a new council that needed to be brought up to speed.
In May, councilors finally agreed to put a new $18 million bond issue before voters to fund construction or renovation at the station.
But the years of waiting have left the structure in a blighted state. In January of 2022, the trust informed the town that immediate repairs would be needed in order to maintain insurance coverage.
“If the build continues to deteriorate as it has been, then it will become uninsurable,” Weaver said at the council meeting on Monday, August 8.
Councilors questioned how much spending was needed and if the work could wait until after November.
“I hate to put a penny into that building right now,” said Councilor John Beauregard.
MBRTF Chairman Paul Vadenais said that while he understood the concern, even if the bond is approved, “You’re still going to be in that building for two and a half years.”
“This is buying us time,” said Vadenais. “We kind of have to spend this money.”
And Weaver said a delay in action could put the town at risk of an uninsured accident.
“You have to be substantially making the building safer,” he said.
“If something was to happen at that building we wouldn’t want to be in that situation,” said Councilor Douglas Osier.
A base bid of $265,000 was awarded to Dubon Masonry Construction out of East Greenwich for asbestos abatement, framing and masonry repairs and work on the roof and flashing, as recommended by Tecton Architects. “Alternates,” make up the remainder of the $440,000 price tag, to be completed as needed, including repairs to the exterior stairs, removal of brick above windows and the frame of the building, and sidewalk and ramp repairs.
Councilor Paulette Hamilton noted that the town’s Department of Public Works recently completed sidewalk repair, and the town should not have to pay for the item twice.
Asked if that work would be taken off the bid, Vadenais responded, “I’d like Mr. Weaver to look at that sidewalk repair. It’s questionable. It’s not really smooth.”
Weaver noted that the trust will be satisfied as long as repairs are moving forward on a timeline, with a reasonable plan in place for the future of the property.
“Right now, there’s no action pending from the trust,” he said. “There have been steps that have been taken to try to mitigate some of the risk. It’s really about making the building safe. I do think that it is far beyond its useful life.”