Demolition underway at former Halliwell Elementary School in North Smithfield


NORTH SMITHFIELD – It’s been a long time coming, but demolition of the 11 buildings off of Victory Highway that once served as a public elementary school is now finally underway.

A.A. Asbestos Abatement Co. of Johnston began knocking down structures at the former Halliwell Elementary School this week, nearly five years since the last town students filled its classrooms.

The school closed in 2019 and razing of the property has been in planning since March of 2022, when the Halliwell Review Committee officially determined that none of the buildings could be repurposed, and that the California-style campus would need to be abated of hazardous materials, and then demolished.

“I’m glad it’s finally being taken down, and we’ll have a nice piece of open space for awhile,” said Public Works Director Raymond Pendergast.

The project went out to bid last May, with two contractors submitting proposals, and the low offer from A.A. Asbestos for both remediation and demolition was set at $544,820. Much of the funding for the work had been set aside since 2014, when it was approved as part of a larger $12 million bond to improve town infrastructure.

The remediation phase has taken more time – and come with more costs – than initially expected. Pendergast said that as the contractor began work at the 32-acre town-owned site, they discovered additional hazardous materials, including double layers of asbestos-laden floor tiles. The company has submitted two change orders increasing costs first by $57,500, and then by another $61,280.

“That kind of slowed the process down a little,” Pendergast said. “It’s taken time.”

First opened in 1957, Dr. Harry L. Halliwell Memorial School initially served students in kindergarten through 8th grade, with a unique setup featuring separated structures for the classrooms and outbuildings. The school was named in honor of Dr. Harry L. Halliwell, who had succumbed to bulbar polio two years earlier at age 33, while treating patients during the outbreaks of the 1950s.

Over the 62 years that followed, Halliwell offered generations of North Smithfield students a somewhat less traditional educational experience, with classes trudging outdoors between buildings for their lunches, gym classes and various assemblies, even through harsh New England winters. Maintenance issues eventually led to closure of the then K-5 facility, after a study commissioned by the Rhode Island Department of Education estimated Halliwell would need more than $11 million in repairs to bring it up to modern standards.

And so, at the start of the 2019/2020 school year, 5th graders were moved to North Smithfield Middle School, with the remaining Halliwell classrooms moved to North Smithfield Elementary School via an expansion to that campus.

While the now active demolition is dependent on favorable weather, Pendergast said he expects it will be completed relatively quickly.

“The abatement process is longer,” he said.

The work is just one piece in a slow but steady effort to repurpose the town-owned land. The lot currently holds the town’s community garden, and efforts are underway to utilize a $4 million federal grant to build a multi-generational center on the former school property with a project now in design, although details and financing have yet to be finalized.

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  1. That’s why we moved to North Carolina ridiculous taxes and destruction of a historic town!!!..i miss Eddie’s market!!!

  2. So much history from that school..I met Bobby Orr with the Boston Bruins in that school..he was dating my teacher Mrs Maroney

  3. If the Town would have MOWED them down back when they closed them, rather than spending thousands of dollars try to think of a way to revamp them. They could have a new senior center by now for less money that what is in the pipeline now! North Smithfield the Town of procrastination!

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