Questions raised as town considers legal action over Kendall Dean

Questions raised as town considers legal action over Kendall Dean

NORTH SMITHFIELD – A long-delayed effort to turn the former Kendall Dean School building into a new town hall was the source of more controversy on Monday when councilors declined to increase the funding for a lawyer before getting answers to some of their questions.

Last week, The Valley Breeze reported how one year after breaking ground, construction is significantly behind schedule, with several portions of the building yet to be complete. Calson Corps., a Johnston-based company, was awarded a $3,019,000 contract to complete the work by Nov. 1 of this year. Paul Vadenais, Town Council president and a member of the Municipal Buildings Review Task Force, said the construction portion of the project is on track to be about $200,000 over budget, though the entire project remains within its $3.5 million budget.

In August, the Town Council approved $10,000 to hire Chris Whitney, an attorney with Pierce Atwood LLP, to consult on matters related to the project. On Monday, Vadenais asked fellow councilors to approve an additional $10,000 for legal services, saying there are still pending legal matters that need to be resolved.

“I’m here to let you know that we’ve approached that amount, and we’re going to be requesting an additional amount, possibly another $10,000, to continue the services,” he said.

When pressed for information on the legal issues, Vadenais declined to give details, saying they could lead to potential litigation for the town. By law, matters related to potential litigation can be discussed in closed session.

Councilor Douglas Osier Jr. continued to press for more information on the legal matters before taking a vote, saying he wasn’t comfortable voting without knowing how many hours to expect. Councilor Paul Zwolenski also expressed concern with the situation, questioning just how much of the project is now complete.

“Where are we? Are we at 70, 80, 90 percent complete? Where are we on this project?” he asked.

According to Vadenais, construction work is about 85 percent complete. Vadenais told councilors that by not approving the extra funds on Monday, they were halting the legal process and possibly bringing harm to the town.

“Personally, I find this push to get this approved tonight as another example of poor planning,” Osier responded.

Earlier in the meeting, two residents had criticized the town’s handling of the project. Michael Clifford, a frequent critic of the Task Force, questioned whether the current plans for the building align with the original intent of the bond funding the work. Resident Dennis Falardeau also spoke out against the project, questioning why the town is relying on hired architect Mark Saccoccio to oversee the work.

Facing pushback from other councilors, Vadenais ultimately agreed to discuss the matter in a closed session at another date rather than bring it to a vote on Monday. Councilors also voted to have Town Solicitor David Igliozzi discuss the matter with Whitney in the meantime.