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.