Dog park, animal shelter plans moving forward at River’s Edge

Dog park, animal shelter plans moving forward at River’s Edge

WOONSOCKET – If all goes according to plan, city residents will be enjoying the use of a dog park at River’s Edge Recreation Complex by next summer, according to the latest update from Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt.

The mayor briefed the City Council on the status of the project on Monday, telling them her administration is moving forward with plans to locate the long-awaited dog park at River’s Edge. The city, she said, will soon go out to bid for fencing and is currently researching equipment to place inside the park.

“The only way that wouldn’t happen is if we ran into any trouble with the DEM as far as the membrane and the fencing,” she said.

The “membrane” she refers to is the impermeable barrier placed over the former landfill when it was capped in 2006. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, she told city councilors, has already offered preliminary approval of the fencing, leaving city officials to seek out pricing for the project.

A dog park isn’t the only canine-friendly installation coming to River’s Edge. According to Baldelli-Hunt, city officials are planning to relocate the city’s animal control shelter there. The shelter, she said, would be located in a structure originally built as a concession stand for use during sporting events. O’Hearn Associates has provided the city with a preliminary drawing of the new shelter and is working to provide pricing for the project.

“We’re looking to try to see if we can upgrade what we have. Keeping it in close proximity to the dog park we thought was good and open and airy,” she said.

The city’s current animal control shelter is located on a riverside property behind the fire station on Cumberland Hill Road. The site has drawn criticism for its poor visibility and outdated structure, even after the city invested funds in an outdoor pavilion to shelter the animal play yard earlier this year.

In recent months, the facility has also been understaffed. Earlier this year, former Animal Control Officer Doris Kay retired, leaving Assistant ACO Tiffany Marie Forrest as the only full-time animal control staff member. Then, in July, a severe bite from a pit bull in city custody forced Forrest out on medical leave. Though she’s now returned to a Monday through Friday schedule, according to Police Chief Thomas Oates, the department has not yet hired a replacement for Kay and is undergoing a review of the shelter’s approach to hours, personnel and volunteers.

“While they’re doing that, we’re still moving forward,” Baldelli-Hunt told the council.

The new shelter and dog park would be located on the Davison Avenue side of the property, an area she said wouldn’t interfere with the council’s plans to consider solar panels for the remainder of the property. In response to concerns about current use of the concession stand, she said the project could be adjusted to allow for some continued use.

“The bathrooms are on the exterior, so my goal would be to leave them on the exterior in order to accommodate the public,” she said.

The dog park has been a topic of discussion since at least 2017, when Baldelli-Hunt convened a committee to look for a possible location. In April, the idea was revisited, with the mayor stating her intention to locate the park at River’s Edge.