Kendall Dean project nears completion, but questions abound

Kendall Dean project nears completion, but questions abound

NORTH SMITHFIELD – It’s been five years since voters approved a $5.2 million bond to renovate the former Kendall Dean School building, Memorial Town Hall and Municipal Annex.

Now, more than a year after breaking ground, the town is nearing the finish line on the first part of that project, the renovation of Kendall Dean School into a new town hall. According to Paul Vadenais, Town Council president and a member of the Municipal Buildings Review Task Force overseeing the project, the contractor is now finishing up some major parts of the building, with the whole project expected to be complete sometime after the first of the year.

“They’re buttoning up a lot of stuff now, and they’re working their way down from the second floor to the first floor to the basement,” he said.

However, not everyone is thrilled with the result. From the beginning, the project has been fraught with delays and mistaken estimates, making it a target for residents frustrated with the lack of progress and what some see as a lack of transparency. In recent years, its most vocal critics have included Michael Clifford, a frequent critic of the Municipal Buildings Review Task Force, and former Town Council President John Flaherty, who served on a previous committee overseeing the project.

Both men claim the current project fails to accomplish the goals put forward before voters in the 2014 bond question, which promised “to achieve efficiencies and the consolidation of municipal and school administration functions in accordance with a plan adopted by the Town Council.” Pointing to conceptual plans approved by the council and an educational flyer distributed to voters, they argue that most residents expected the town and school offices to be combined into one building if the bond passed.

Five years later, that doesn’t seem to be the case. School Committee Chairman James Lombardi acknowledged to The Breeze on Tuesday the department has no plans to move any personnel over to Kendall Dean. Instead, he said, the district plans to remain in its current offices in the middle school, high school and former Andrews School building on the other side of town.

“If the town can use the property for their needs, I think it would be a more efficient use of the property and good for all,” he said.

That answer raises concerns for Clifford and Flaherty, who say the town has a checkered history when it comes to delivering on bond promises. In the case of the Kendall Dean project, they said, the outcome should serve as a warning to voters when considering future bond questions.

“There is, I think, a fundamental issue as it regards to truth, transparency and the use of people’s tax dollars,” said Flaherty. “The whole thing was presented as a way to create efficiencies. What’s happening is that the taxpayer is being robbed of the efficiencies.”

Vadenais disagreed with that characterization, pointing out the departments could still consolidate some of their services as promised in the bond question without necessarily relocating the School Department to Kendall Dean. The original bond, he argued, did not include enough funding to accomplish the project, and would have located offices in inappropriate spaces if they had moved forward with a full consolidation.

“That’s what was put out there, to have all of those people in one building,” he said. “The reality of it is, it was underfunded. They never had enough money to accomplish what the goal was.”

Town Administrator Gary Ezovski agreed the original bond question was off on its numbers, pointing out that two other bonds on the ballot – related to schools and roads – were also unable to deliver the promised improvements within their budgets.

“We’re only dealing with the circumstances as they are today,” he said. “We can’t live in the past, we live in today.”

The budget is one of several issues the project has faced over its five-year history. In early 2017, the Public Buildings Improvement Commission, the first committee appointed to oversee the project, was disbanded after a first round of bids came in approximately $1 million over budget. In 2018, the Municipal Buildings Review Task Force, appointed to replace the prior committee, decided to put the Bushee School portion of the project on hold after a second round of bids returned a similar result.

Four months ago, the town hired an attorney to resolve issues with the developer over the project timeline and other concerns that Vadenais said he can’t disclose at this time. As of Tuesday, the council had approved up to $25,000 in fees for Christopher Whitney, a commercial litigation attorney who continues to meet with the task force.

With the Kendall Dean portion of the project nearing completion, Vadenais said the next step will be to re-evaluate whether there’s enough contingency money left in the project budget to move forward with the Bushee School renovation. After that, the town will have to decide what to do with its vacant buildings, including the present town hall and Halliwell School, as well as the other municipal assets under its control.

“I believe that this town, maybe not in the next year, but sometime in the near future will be floating a multimillion bond to fund a number of things, whether it’s buildings, equipment, infrastructure,” he said.

While that bond may have the support of some, at least one resident has said he won’t be supporting it. Clifford, who said he believes the town should have put the Kendall Dean project back out to vote when the goals of the project changed, said he’ll never vote for another bond again.

“I’ll vote down every bond issue from now on. I’ll never vote for another one,” he said.

Comments

Before anyone falls for the excuse that the budget prohibited school department offices from being constructed in the Kendall Dean building I suggest they review the January 22, 2018 YouTube video of the Town Council meeting. The MBRTF’s architect can be seen presenting plans showing 2,200 square feet of office space which he stated would accommodate all but one school department central office staff member. He also presented a budget which he said would cover the planned renovations. Although the office space actually built in the renovated Kendall Dean building doesn’t reflect the same amount of space as was shown on January 22nd, approximately 1,000 square feet of office space was actually constructed in the building for the school department business offices. At the October 7, 2019 Town Council meeting Town Administrator Ezovski announced the school department staff would not be moving in to the office space built for them so the rooms would remain vacant. It’s all on YouTube, including repeated assurances made by Mr. Vadenais that school department central office staff would be occupying space in the building. You can find more details by visiting my Facebook page “Cliff Notes by Mike Clifford”.
Mike Clifford

Truth and transparency used to mean something.

If you want to know "the rest of the story", see this - https://www.facebook.com/Cliff.Notes.by.Mike.Clifford/posts/120988262921...

Listen to the residents above they know whats going on and the lack of fiscal responsibility in town. Don't have blind faith in your leaders spending your money. The new RI education commissioner is going through the providence school budget and can't believe the mismanagement and lack of fiscal responsibility.It's time we appoint real fiscal responsible taxpayers to lead our town.

Wouldn't it be nice if Truth and Transparency was a two-way street?:

- The PBIC promised North Smithfield voters 30 roads. We barely got 10 (and only that many because of the fine job done by our DPW). Promises unkept: https://www.nsmithfieldri.org/sites/northsmithfieldri/files/uploads/pbic...

- How did the Truth and Transparency thing go when an Open Meetings violation complaint was filed back in 2017?: http://www.riag.ri.gov/documents/om/OM1732.pdf

- There were 4 bids back in October of 2016, the lowest of which was $1Million over budget. The PBIC then punted in an attempt to portion-out the bids, which was legally challenged by low bidder Iron Construction per RIGL 45-55-1. This after the PBIC had sat on the project for TWO YEARS!

- It has been noted that non-essential items were included in the October 2016 bid. Why? Costs had gone nowhere but up since the referendums were approved by NS voters in November 2014.

- It was determined that the Annex (Bushee School) has a very limited lifespan remaining. Per the PBIC-hired project manager, voters would be "somewhat satisfied with and get "adequate" repairs, and the bond very well could outlast the building". Did/does it make any sense to put substantial taxpayer dollars into a pending tear-down? And the PBIC wanted to move forward with pouring millions into the building?

- The PBIC hired boutique architect Studio Meja (which had no experience with a project of this magnitude, and struggled mightily - read the Open Meetings violation complaint referenced above), whose leadership had a close affiliation with the former President of the Town Council. Coincidence?

- Voters were also promised re-purposing of "the entire Annex building for the North Smithfield Police Headquarters complying with federal and state regulations to include technologies...". Technologies were not included as part of the as funded $5.2 million base bid, and apparently were considered "nice to have's", much like roofing, windows, security systems, heat valves, fixtures, furnishings and other vital components. This is an example of achieving "the specific goals outlined in the bond questions themselves"? (per PBIC Mission Statement)

Residents and taxpayers should be wary of the messages delivered by those trying to revise history to protect their legacy - a legacy of broken promises now coming back to haunt NS. Again.

Tony Guertin
North Smithfield

When will the feeding frenzy end in town government and the taxpayer be served or is that a funny.Mr. Guertin it seems to us that you love spending our money through bonds.I have lived here thirty years and can't remember a administration not using our government as a feeding frenzy.

The current forecast for North Smithfield is spending goes through the roof and taxpayers are furious. The schools will not be the same as other city's and towns will encroach upon them and diminish their stature. Housing projects will overcome single family houses along with crime and diminish our small town charm.North Smithfield will become an arm of woonsocket regionaizing department's and schools.North Smithfield will slowly fade away as a quiet little town.Became to big for its britches

Taken directly from the North Smithfield Building Review Task Force, Summary Observation Report, dated April 13, 2017:

“With regard to the bond financing the work associated with the roadway improvements those activities were handled successfully. We believe that was the case due to the fact that there were at least two members on the PBIC with specific experience dealing with road way improvements and road construction knowledge. The PBIC agreed that the Casali Report was only to be used as a guide and that the Town should hire a consultant to prepare construction documents. They developed and implemented a plan to get the most value for the budget allowed. However it should be noted that under the original bond voted on by the Town, there would have been up to thirty roads repaved using a 2” overlay, but the likely hood that this paving activity would have lasted very long is at best questionable.”

You don't seem to be in agreement with the MBRTF's statement that the road bond projects were successful. Also, just to be clear Mr. Guertin, the bond question did NOT identify the number of roads to be repaved. That number came from the Casali Report. Aware that it may not be possible to complete 30 roads as indicated in the Casali Report, the language in the bond indicated only the dollar amount to be spent on the roads.

With regard to non- essential items being included in the 2016 bid specs, those items were listed as add alternates in the event that the bids came in lower than expected and money was available. The MBRTF did the very same thing in their bid documents.

As usual most of your statements are distorted and take statements out of context in an attempt to mislead residents. I’m not going to waste my time addressing each one. My purpose in providing examples was to demonstrate your tactic to the readers, so they can clearly see it is you who is trying to revise history.

The re-paved street count could have much closer if we were not rebuilding to Rt. 95 standards. A grind of the gutter lines and a 2"overlay would have lasted just as long as this ridiculous process they are currently using at a much lower cost. Keep in mind that the roads they are replacing were mostly just a 2" overlay of oil and gravel roads and lasted about 30 years.