Town Council commits to rehabilitating neighborhood center

Town Council commits to rehabilitating neighborhood center

SMITHFIELD – The Town Council expressed its commitment to preserving and rehabilitating the historic East Smithfield Neighborhood Center, which is now closed indefinitely due to safety concerns, during a meeting March 7.

David Russas of the town’s Asset Management Commission presented a list of 22 deficiencies and safety issues found during a Feb. 24 walk-through of the facility. After the assessment, it was decided the center would need to be be closed for repairs.

Russas also said that additional reviews of the building still need to be completed. For instance, the fire marshal still needs to complete a report on the conditions of the neighborhood center.

“There is zero fire protection in that building,” a representative of the fire department said.

Among the problems Russas listed were a lack of working exit signs, expired fire detectors, and hanging wires.

Members of the Boy Scouts, the Swing Club, and the Historic Preservation Commission were present at the meeting to show support for the neighborhood center.

Although not in the best condition, the center is beloved by residents for its place in the town’s history – it was built in the 1800s.

“We have a commitment to keeping this open,” Town Council President Paul Santucci said, reassuring those present.

In other news, the council was also approached by the Tri-Town CEO and President Joseph DeSantis, who asked for an increase in funding from the town and also assistance with obtaining a red light in front of its Johnston facility.

Tri-Town is a nonprofit community service organization that provides job training, health screenings and more for every town in Rhode Island. It is paid a contribution from each town and, according to DeSantis, “allocation is low in Smithfield in comparison to other towns.”

DeSantis asked the council to consider providing $20,000 to Tri-Town. He also asked for $50,000 from Smithfield to contribute to the construction of a red light in front of the Johnston facility on Hartford Avenue for safety.

Council members were also approached by Robert VanNieuwenhuyze, a resident on East Lantern Road who has “serious safety concerns” about the condition of the road. The road is comprised of both Smithfield and Lincoln residents. The town line runs parallel to the road.

VanNieuwenhuyze said the street is too narrow and with current development of new homes, Lantern Road and East Lantern Road are not able to sustain the increased traffic. In fact, the post office no longer delivers mail to individual homes on the road, but rather drops it off at a makeshift mailbox at the end of the street.

He said he was told widening the road would ruin the “country charm.”

The town agreed to get the town planner and manager involved in contacting Lincoln’s leadership.

Santucci also gave the town an update on fire department and police pension funds. After a review of pensions for the Smithfield Police Department and Fire Department, the report presented by Santucci, independent of the council, shows combined unfunded liabilities of $27,489,062 for the two departments’ pension programs.

His presentation described how the town is currently addressing those issues with a funding improvement plan.

Dennis Finlay, town manager, also reminded those present of the town’s upcoming “Our Town” PBS documentary.

“Our Town” is a community project wherein neighbors are the filmmakers and tell the stories of their community. PBS describes the project as “part fundraiser, part community builder, part historical and cultural documentary, and part ‘day-in-the-life’ video scrapbook.”

The council also:

• Discussed planning a mediated conversation between the Greenville Public Library and the East Smithfield Library.

• Scheduled a town hall style “meet and greet” at the East Smithfield Library for March 11 at 9 a.m.

• Discussed having the town planner, Michael Phillips, assess traffic issues on Route 7 and Route 116.

• Scheduled a work session for the 2018 operation budget for March 28 at 5:30 p.m.

• Scheduled a public hearing for the next meeting, March 16, to discuss a pilot program for evening lights at Deerfield Park from April 1 to May 3.

• Appointed Jennifer Hawkins to the Smithfield Affordable Housing Advisory Board with a term expiring March 2020.

• Appointed Gary Furtado, Paul Ouellette, Keith Christensen, Kellie-Ann Heenan, and James Segovis to the Smithfield Town Manager Selection Advisory Committee with open terms.