Halliwell Committee to consider next steps for former school

Halliwell Committee to consider next steps for former school

NORTH SMITHFIELD – The Halliwell Review Committee is onto the next step of its review process and is seeking public feedback on what should happen to the former school buildings during a public forum this Saturday, July 24.

Weston & Sampson, an engineering firm hired to evaluate the buildings, will lead the forum. The morning will begin with a walk-through of the property at 9 a.m. and continue with a public charrette, or planning and design discussion, in the North Smithfield Middle School cafeteria at 10 a.m.

“It’s really going to be identifying activities that residents want to see and tailoring the program to fit those activities,” said Jeffrey Porter, committee chairman. “I really want to encourage anybody who has any kind of ideas to come out.”

The committee began meeting earlier this year to determine a possible future for the former school buildings. In May, they put out a public survey to gauge the town’s interest on reusing the property. According to committee Vice Chairman Christopher Simpkins, who presented the results during a meeting last Thursday, July 15, 441 individuals took the survey between May 20 and June 30.

“It’s difficult to get 400 people to respond to a survey unless you’re paying them or it’s something they care about. In our case, it’s obviously the latter,” he said.

The first question asked whether the town should keep or sell the property. Residents responded overwhelmingly they wanted to keep the property, he said, with 90 percent saying to hold onto it.

While the most popular suggestions for its reuse were a community or senior center, Simpkins said respondents had very different ideas of what that meant. Ideas for activities at the property included everything from a playground to meeting spaces, classes, nature trails, a pool, a splash pad, concerts, farmers markets and co-working space.

Only 8 percent said they wanted to see a police station or public safety complex on the property, and 10 percent said they didn’t want the property to go unused due to fears of crime.

While the town is considering options, Parks and Recreation Commission members under the leadership of Ann Lilley and Cheryl Marandola have kicked off a trial run of a community garden at the former school. Porter said the effort has been “wildly successful,” with volunteers visiting the property to care for the garden.

Though Porter said it’s too early to be thinking about costs, members of the committee pointed out the different ideas will have different impacts on the town. Member Robert Najarian said during the meeting that anything of significance would require a bond.

“We should be straightforward and say folks, no matter what we do, the word bond has to be in the discussion,” he said.

After the forum, Weston & Sampson is expected to incorporate public feedback into a report with three potential options and cost estimates presented some time in August or September. The Halliwell Review Committee will then make their recommendation to the Town Council on what the town should do with the property.

Comments

Creating land leasing rights is the best decision. Land leasing rights would increase review instead of all the other raise taxes ideas. I am glad to see no police station but one politician will be disappointed.