Business boom, mill fire ignite

Business boom, mill fire ignite

LINCOLN - Residents saw their firefighters fight a mill fire and discuss district consolidation in 2013, as George Washington Highway became peppered with new companies opening their doors, and Twin River Casino became the only spot for table gaming in Rhode Island.

There were upgrades to town and school buildings and a monument given new life, all while town officials began to look ahead to the 2014 ballot.

Here's a look at some of the top stories of 2013:

1. Table games go live at Twin River Casino, then expand

Just three months after table games went live at Twin River Casino in June, and Rhode Islanders were able to stay in-state for their roulette, craps and blackjack play, the number of games was already increasing.

In September, casino officials announced the increase of games by 14, from 66 to 80, while keeping the number of video lottery terminals at 4,583, in an expansion approved by the Rhode Island Division of Lotteries.

The influx of new games at the 24-hour facility has also meant 600 new jobs and a boom for business, with Rhode Island Lottery reports indicating the table games have brought $3.18 million to the state's general fund since July.

VLT companion play is also up, reported Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond, who said Lincoln received 3 percent more in VLT revenue in the first quarter table games went live. Food and beverage sales have also increased 20 to 25 percent, said Twin River's Chairman of the Board John Taylor Jr.

But Twin River is not done expanding its services as it looks to establish positive relationships with patrons and community members before Massachusetts casinos are built over the next few years.

Following a presentation from casino officials, an ordinance drafted by Town Council President Keith Macksoud is currently under consideration to extend Twin River's liquor license for service until 2 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and the nights before legal holidays.

The six-month pilot program was forwarded to the Ordinance Committee at the Dec. 17 Town Council meeting.

2. Firefighters control six-alarm blaze at Carrington Street mill

A cause has still not yet been determined for the six-alarm fire that burned a portion of the former Lonsdale Bleachery Mill to the ground on Oct. 31.

Lonsdale Fire Chief Timothy Griffin, who said the Halloween night blaze was the biggest he had seen in his 36-year career, said the State Fire Marshal investigation is still ongoing, and nothing - including arson - has yet been officially ruled out.

What is known, especially by town officials, residents and nearby business owners, is that the Carrington Street mill fire could have been much worse.

The Halloween-night blaze at the 150,000-square-foot building brought in 20 fire trucks and 60 firefighters from around the state, who worked under Griffin's leadership to actually contain the damage.

Griffin, who has over the years gotten his department familiar with the mill through training and planning, said he was told by fire marshals that this was the first mill fire they had seen where the entire building had not burned to the ground.

Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond was among many to praise the firefighters' work, calling it "flawless."

3. Lincoln schools fitted with more secure entrances

Starting this fall, visitors to Lincoln's public schools have had to buzz twice for entrance after new entry vestibules were installed to provide for more security at the front of each building.

While configurations based on existing layouts vary from school to school, all include two sets of blast-resistant locked doors, buzzers and security cameras. After making it through the front door, visitors are contained in the vestibule until they are allowed into the rest of the building.

Though approved and installed after the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the vestibules had actually been an official goal since earlier last year.

But while those plans did not make it through the previous budget cycle, it seemed the tragedy in Connecticut all but guaranteed their approval this year at a cost of $419,374 through a resolution at the Financial Town Meeting.

The spotlight on school security this year also included outfitting all doors with locks that lock from the inside, more security cameras at the middle and high schools, as well as $132,000 worth of emergency training with a crisis management consultant for all school personnel.

4. Manville Bridge reopens with weight limit

Linking Cumberland and Lincoln once again after four months of inconvenience for residents, the Manville Bridge reopened to traffic in April with a 10-ton weight limit.

The 58-year-old bridge closed suddenly last December when a state inspection found significant steel deterioration.

State Rep. Mia Ackerman, who represents the Manville and Cumberland Hill area, worked with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation throughout the process, advocating for drivers who had to add time to their commute and business owners who reportedly saw a decline in the number of customers.

RIDOT spokeswoman Heidi Gudmunson reported this spring that the department was working with a consultant on the designs for a new bridge. She had said she anticipated construction to begin in 2014.

5. Fire district consolidation may be decided on 2014 ballot

Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond has taken the reins of fire district consolidation in town after the six independent districts failed to make progress on their own.

Albion and Saylesville could see the finish line with their own merger when fire officials recommended rejection of the plan in February after finding out the merger would end up costing taxpayers. Lonsdale was also a part of the discussion for months, but ended up dropping out for similar financial reasons.

So Almond, who had brought fire chiefs together in 2009 to spur consolidation action, moved forward with the question that has been asked at each subsequent meeting since: If Lincoln started from scratch - imagining it had no fire stations, equipment or personnel - what would a perfect plan look like for the town?

It has yet to be answered, but officials are on track to find out. The Public Safety Committee has taken ownership of the issue, holding several meetings over the fall that were attended by representatives from Albion, Lime Rock, Lonsdale and Saylesville, but not Manville nor Quinnville.

Funding for a third-party study to find what Lincoln needs may be put before voters at the Financial Town Meeting in the spring. But because the Town Council must submit referendum questions to the state soon after, by May 2014, the first fire-related ballot question for Lincoln residents may be whether they are interested in pursuing fire consolidation in general.

Almond has also advised Town Councilors to submit enabling legislation to the state to ensure that if Lincoln voters approve a plan in November, it will be upheld against the independent fire charters.

6. George Washington Highway sees boom in development

If the full parking lot and lines of cars wrapping around the town's new Panera Bread are any indication, residents are embracing the new commercial developments that have popped up along George Washington Highway this year.

The Howley Bread Group restaurant and its first Rhode Island drive-through are one of several businesses that have opened or will open at the new Albion Commons at 613 and 618 George Washington Highway, along with Coastway Community Bank, PieZoni's Pizza, Sports Clips, Elite Physical Therapy, Fitness Together and a spa-related business.

Frank Paolino, owner of Link Commercial Properties LLC, said he has transformed the former "dead corner" that once housed a Chrysler Dodge dealership.

Just up the street sits two more developments.

The first, at 640 George Washington Highway, is a future two-story, 34,000-square-foot office building set to be completed by the fall of 2014. The site, owned by RJB Properties, is on the front lawn of the former Blackstone Valley Electric headquarters.

And north of that still, just before the Cumberland line, sits the largest salt barn in the state, which was built by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation for $1.5 million this fall. The 140-by-120-foot facility houses up to 10,000 tons of salt and allows trucks to drive straight through, keeping materials dry and vehicle repairs out of the snow.

7. WWI monument more visible thanks to relocation

Location, location, location.

This summer, it proved to mean all the difference on School Street when a 200-yard move brought an almost century-old World War I monument out of hiding and into the town's historic landscape.

The Jacques Cartier Society monument that was erected in 1918 across from the former Albion mills had seen a significant decline in foot traffic since the mills turned into a condo complex and trains stopped dropping workers off at the bottom of the School Street hill.

The granite soldier standing at attention had become so nestled in surrounding trees that many residents, and even some town officials, had never noticed it.

But that all changed this summer, when Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond had the monument relocated to the former Albion Grammar School site, now a renovated Albion Park complete with a wooden gazebo, flags and a spotlight on the statue, which immediately became the park's main attraction.

8. Lincoln Public Library opens Children's Room addition

Making more room for kids in town to get lost in a good book, the Lincoln Public Library debuted its new Children's Room addition in late July.

Construction on the 2,300-square-foot addition took eight months to complete, a few months longer than anticipated because of work delays. It worked with a budget of $620,000, paid for with allocations from the Financial Town Meeting, the Champlin Foundation and impact fees.

Once it was complete, visitors could enjoy the new space that came complete with a glassed-in story room for reading and crafts, touch-screen computers and iPads, and more interactive play space for little ones.

There was also a second addition in May, when Ashley Prior was hired as the new children's librarian.

Library patrons now enter the building through a new set of doors built into the addition. The old entrance has been closed up with windows, making for a reading area awash with natural light on a sunny day.

9. Phase 1 of police station addition moves forward

Voters approved the first of two phases of an addition to the town's police station at the Financial Town Meeting in May, which made $1.92 million available to build the shell of the addition and finish the top floor's 3,300 square feet of space with offices and conference rooms.

Final drawings are still being completed, said Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond, by RGB Architects, who won a $160,300 bid earlier this year.

Almond said he hopes to have final plans in time for his February 2014 budget submission.

A second vote of approval will be needed at the 2014 FTM, when residents are expected to vote on using $900,000 in capital to fund Phase 2.

Phase 2 will consist of finishing the bottom floor with holding and processing rooms and cells, as well as renovating the existing space to become roll call rooms, offices for shift supervisors and locker rooms.

Because of the timing, Almond said, the plan is to put one bid out for the two phases following the upcoming Financial Town Meeting, should Phase 2 be approved.

He said he hopes to start construction on the addition next spring.

10. International Cafe collects slew of town, state violations

This was a year of legal woes for the owner of International Cafe on Old Louisquisset Pike after he amassed a total of $2,050 in fines and two weekend suspensions from the town after three separate liquor license violations where he was found to have been operating after hours.

But Elia Nassios also faced issues with the state Department of Health, when The Breeze discovered he had been operating without a food service license for seven months before he paid to renew it in November.

Though the restaurant's liquor license has been renewed, it is contingent upon compliance with orders to remove tint from windows and pay all owed fines and license renewal fees.

International Cafe closed after Thanksgiving, and has remained vacant while Nassios works on renovations and paying the town.

At a show cause hearing Dec. 17, Town Councilors laid down a time limit. Either Nassios will pay up and comply by Feb. 28, 2014, or he will forfeit his liquor license.