N.S. council changes plan for multi-generational center: Project officially moves to Halliwell site

Conceptual plans presented this week envisioned a kitchen in the multi-generational center.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Plans to create a community center inside a renovated Scouter’s Hall are officially off the table.

The Town Council voted unanimously Thursday, Sept. 7 to move the project to the 32-acre property that once held Halliwell Elementary School.

The vote followed a three-hour meeting in which architects from Bargmann Hendrie + Archetype, Inc. presented conceptual plans for the property with a long-term look at possibilities including everything from a swimming pool and softball field, to walking trails and an amphitheater.

But this week, councilors drew the focus on space to meet the immediate needs of both seniors and other community groups.

Last December, the town was approved for a $4 million federal grant to fund a project for a multi-generational center with plans, initially focused on expanding the Scouter’s Hall building, which is currently shared by both seniors and local scout troops. Talks since, however, have pointed to space restrictions with the property, and the cost of rehabilitating the 50-year-old structure.

And last month, town officials learned that the federal funding could be utilized even if the location was changed.

It was welcomed news to members of the Halliwell Review Committee, who have spent the past several years looking at potential uses for the sprawling, town-owned, former elementary school land.

“We’ve been looking at this for a long time,” said Jeff Porter, chairman of the HRC.

Linda Thibault a longtime advocate of the project and head of the town’s Senior Citizens Advisory Committee, has vocally supported the idea of moving the center to Halliwell. But on Thursday, she and other senior advocates pointed to concerns regarding the “multi-generational” designation.

“When we began this whole process we talked about a dedicated space for seniors and I’m not really hearing that,” Thibault said. “That’s what I’ve been battling for. We need a place of our own.”

Thibault noted that in her mind, while others could use the space on nights and weekends, it was important for the town’s older population to have an area of their own – particularly for safe storage of their stuff.

Porter, however, noted that his board’s specific charge was to look at how the property could be used to benefit the entire community.

“We don’t want to isolate the seniors, but we also don’t want to isolate the rest of the community,” Porter said. “We are trying to address needs for all members of the community. This is the place in North Smithfield where the community should be coming together. This is an amenity for the community as a whole.”

Council President Kimberly Alves pointed out that the federal grant also specifies it should be used for creation of a multi-generational center.

Thibault did note she was pleased with the conceptual plans presented by the firm, which incorporated all of the elements she requested in talks with the architects.

Councilor Paulette Hamilton agreed it was a strong conceptual plan.

“I kind of get it now,” Hamilton said. “I really get what could be there and how it could be utilized.”

However, she added, “It is going to cost us money. It’s not going to bring money in.”

It was Councilor John Beauregard who motioned to make the focus on Halliwell official.

Town Planner Mark Carrulo noted that the town has until August 31 of 2031 to use the grant.

“There’s plenty of time, but that doesn’t mean that we should take our time,” Carrulo said.

Councilors also voted to have the architectural firm look specifically at creation of just a single building – and possibly a gym – on the property, and see what could be accomplished with the $4 million grant.

The complete meeting can be viewed here.

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  1. Those of us, including myself as a senior, have been watching this process closely, since it’s inception a few years ago and have differing views on what this has the potential to be, for the entire community. As an individual that also committed the vast majority of my career, serving and educating seniors, I envision a center that brings together the entire community.

    I am a very strong advocate for the inclusion of a pool. A pool can be used to teach every child in this community how to swim, as part of their physical education program. It can also be used to develop a swim team for youth, have the opportunity to teach life guarding and swimming classes and also benefit seniors by having water aerobics, a very, popular activity at any Y. Water exercise provides the least resistance of all exercise and is the most recommended, second to walking.

    A pool can also be an opportunity for income, with members providing a nominal fee for classes. A pool can also be rented out for birthday parties, splash parties, etc.

    Yes, these things do cost money and yes, you need funding, but North Smithfield needs to start somewhere. Other than education, what attracts people to this town?

    Lastly, I would recommend that people watch this meeting. I was very dismayed by the lack of regard for other members of the North Smithfield community. These monies were allocated to fund a multi-generational center and not a building designated solely for seniors. As such, a designated space exclusively for seniors, to be used by them Monday-Friday, 8-4, does not meet the parameters of the grant funding and does not provide for the sense of community as I would envision.

    A sincere thank you to Jeff Porter and the members of the HRC for their vision of “community.”

    • Mary, while I hear all you points I want to know where all of the funding is going to come from. The proposed building looks to be over $10 million and the operating budget can not absorb the funding or can the taxpayers take on another increase. The town will also be well over the 4% tax cap given all of the other contracts that are already committed. The town needs a more financially experienced team.

      • Deborah, I do agree that funding could be an issue which is a tremendous problem for a town this size. We might also consider partnering with another organization or regionalizing access to the facility.

        With the right team taking responsibility and individuals with grant writing and development experience these things can get done…I do think that this town is always looking in the rear view mirror and feel that this could be something that the entire community could get behind.

        • Sorry can not absorb that risk when grants are not done and the annual operating budget falls back on taxpayers. Most other towns are funding the community center with no other funding. John B’s police will exhaust all the towns funding.

  2. “The money tree has lost all of its leaves and is dying” SO TRUE! You can’t fix a 50 yo building? Since when?? Seniors could have had their own space and the scouts. The PEOPLE voted on Scouters Hall and now the TC can change it? In just one night? I truly understand what Linda is saying. Seniors need to have their own space. NOT a space where it’s shared. What happened to the plans that were bought and paid for? Just throw them away?

  3. Another bad decision by the uniformed and inexperienced town council. How can you make a decision when you don’t know the costs. When I saw the building that was proposed it was way more than $4 million dollars. Second can the $4 million grant really be moved to a new location. Do they have an actual confirmation letter from the federal government and not someone’s opinion telling you what you want to hear. I doubt it as the people involved will believe anything to accomplish personal goals. Third how much is the annual operating costs, I saw and heard about a director and offices to run the facility, then we have utility costs, maintenance (oh wait we don’t do maintenance), program costs, supplies, equipment, computers, internet, employee benefits, pension, and the list goes on. I can predict an annual operating budget of $750,000 to $1,000,000 after I saw the size and functions at the facility. Where is North Smithfield going to find the funds for capital over the $4 million grant and the annual operating budget. North Smithfield has a town council and administrator that does not understand finance and how to operate the town. You can not just keep adding programs without funding and raising taxes is not the answer. The town is currently struggling to maintain current infrastructure let alone add more programs. Also how will the town fund this project and the police station at the same time. The money tree has lost all of its leaves and is dying.

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