Halliwell closure part of $9.5 million buildings plan

Halliwell closure part of $9.5 million buildings plan

NORTH SMITHFIELD - A bond to address the needed repairs and reconfiguration of 16 town properties could total nearly $9.5 million, and Halliwell Elementary School would finally be shut down in June 2015, if voters approve a plan devised by the Public Facilities Advisory Task Force.

Engineers from RGB - formerly the Robinson Green Beretta Corp. - presented cost estimates for the improvements to members of the Task Force Monday night. The plan includes building an addition on the town Annex on Smithfield Road to create more space for the North Smithfield Police Department, renovating Kendall Dean on Green Street to allow for accommodation of both school and town administrative offices, and constructing four additional classrooms at North Smithfield Elementary School to make room for students in grades 3 and 4 who would transfer to the facility from a decommissioned Halliwell.

The plan also calls for repairs to the exterior of the historic municipal Town Hall in Slatersville and Andrews School on Providence Pike, although both buildings would ultimately be left mostly vacant. The Main Street Town Hall building, which currently houses some town functions including the administrator's office, could receive minor renovations so that it could be used for board and commission meetings.

"If a National Historical Park ever gets approved by Congress, then the town might consider some arrangement with the National Park Service to use all or a portion of the building for park offices and/or a visitors center," explained John Flaherty, Town Council president and chairman of the Task Force.

The public will get its first look and a chance to comment on the plan at a hearing Monday, Feb. 3, and the project may be adjusted after town officials receive the public feedback, but a final version must be adopted by the Town Council sometime next month. The town will need authorization from the General Assembly to put a bond to fund the proposal on the ballot before voters next November.

"One of the objectives of the Task Force is to use existing buildings rather than build new ones to save on cost," explained David DeQuattro, principal of RGB.

DeQuattro's firm has been working with town officials for the past several months to create a cost estimate for the work, and his summary, presented this week, showed $6.5 million spent on improvements to town buildings and Kendall Dean, and $2.9 million dedicated to School Department renovations.

The final element of the plan, a solution for the aging Halliwell Elementary School that is in immediate need of millions of dollars in repairs, was added to the draft proposal this week after the School Committee agreed to build permanent rather than modular classrooms at NSES. The committee's unanimous vote followed a presentation in which DeQuattro showed the district would actually save money by utilizing the more permanent solution of "brick and mortar" classrooms over temporary trailers.

"There's certainly nothing wrong with trailers. They're used all over the country," said DeQuattro. "But they are temporary-type setups. There's a cost to bring them there. There's a cost to move them and there's a cost to rent them every month."

RGB estimated that temporary classrooms would cost the district $1.1 million over 10 years, while the permanent addition would cost just over $1 million. The Rhode Island Department of Education, however, provides reimbursements for 40 percent of the cost of permanent school construction, ultimately making the brick and mortar classrooms more cost effective.

"If they're going to contribute money, they want something that's going to be long-term," DeQuattro said. "It surprises me a little bit actually, but the trailer came out more expensive."

Grade 5 students from Halliwell would be moved to the middle school, and while most of the 358 Victory Highway school would be demolished, buildings 10 and 11, the cafetorium and one set of the classrooms would remain open for school storage. At the middle school, two large classrooms on the second floor would be divided into three rooms to house the incoming grade 5 students.

Other school improvements include upgrades to six science classrooms and labs at the high school, which engineers say really haven't been touched since the buildings were built in 1965.

"It's bringing the classrooms up into the 21st century so the kids can actually do experiments," said DeQuattro. That portion of the project would cost $1,424,961.

A 1,000-square-foot addition would also have to be built on the NSES cafeteria at a cost of $277,200.

"If you don't have that, you have to start lunches at 9:30 or 10 in the morning," DeQuattro said.

The potential solution to "the Halliwell problem" comes after years of debate and a number of previous attempts to agree on a plan. In 2006, voters defeated a $22 million bond referendum to fund a replacement school, but a district study determined in 2012 that decommissioning the school to build a new facility was still the best solution. The final plan represents something of a compromise between education officials who maintain that building a new facility would be the best option for students, and budget hawks who feel current school buildings could accommodate the kids without any new construction.

"Practically speaking, it will be difficult to pursue anything different than what the School Committee has proposed unless there's a compelling mandate for something else that emerges at the Feb. 3 public hearing," said Flaherty.



This plan as presented in this article sells the town short. While town hall may be a historic building it like Halliwell should be shut down as a municipal complex. An addition to Bushee School aka " the annex"? Why are we not looking at a NEW yes NEW municipal complex that provides residents and more importantly municipal employees a state of the art facility from which to conduct ALL town business? Then we can shut down "the annex" too.

The real plan should 1) build a new municipal center housing all town offices AND police 2) sell "the annex" and 3) turn the town hall building into a community center perhaps allowing some of our non profit organizations to house their records in the vault.

Anything less is a waste of time and money.

As part of the group working to bring this plan to fruition, I urge you to attend the TC meeting on Monday, February 3rd.

Keeping Halliwell open for 4 more years costs more than this plan based upon required improvements alone for security and building repair and upgrades. That was clear in the school departments 5 year capital budget request.

In addition, I would say that the Task Force did look into a combined municipal complex but thought it far too costly. The town is not in the business of selling real estate and there would be no guarantee that sales of any town buildings would reap enough to offset costs of a new municipal complex.

If my recollection is correct, a new complex was estimated in the 15-20 million territory and no one felt that was something taxpayers had an appetite to swallow.

What is being presented tomorrow is the culmination of a lot of hard work that included all boards and commissions in town.

Speaking personally, I do not wish to see any additional tax burden but I also don't wish to be nickeled and dimed for the next 15 years either. This plan solves many issues of space needed while also eliminating many of the needed infrastructure updates. My hope is that this would be the solution for the next 10-15 years.

However, decide for yourself and attend the TC meeting tomorrow. The Task Force is looking for active feedback and will consider relevant suggestions to tweak the proposal.

Art Bassett
Planning Board Vice Chair & PB representative to the Task Force