Halliwell Review Committee Member Robert Najarian

Halliwell Review Committee Member Robert Najarian gives his opinion to Town Council Members and those in attendance.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Members of North Smithfield’s senior population are continuing to call for a senior center at the former Halliwell School, though some in town have questioned whether the property is the right location.

On Monday, the Town Council held a public hearing to discuss a recent architectural and structural assessment of the property. The report was prepared by Weston & Sampson, and representatives of the firm presented their findings during the meeting.

Among those present was Linda Thibault, a town resident and member of the Senior Citizen Advisory Committee who has repeatedly called for the property to be turned into a senior center. Thibault said seniors in town are anxious to finally have a permanent space.

“Since all this started, seniors have really, really, really wanted a senior center; it is time we get a senior center, the people want it now,” she said. “They ask if they are going to see it in their lifetime, and we have limited time.”

Councilor Claire O’Hara said that she agreed with Thibault and had also been hearing many seniors say that they wondered if they would be alive to see a North Smithfield Senior Center.

Thibault said that she has been working on grants to get money for the senior center, but that in order to receive the grants, there needs to be a physical senior center already in place.

“The proposition that there could be a senior center there has really mobilized the seniors,” Thibault said. “They came out in large numbers to support Halliwell to be turned into a senior center.”

Councilor Kim Alves said that she agreed with Thibault that the town needs a senior center but that the Halliwell building may not be the right place, especially as it may take too long to restore it to a working state.

“We need to look at other options and think creatively and outside of the box,” Alves said.

During their presentation, Weston & Sampson described the challenges with the property, including wetlands, steep slopes, ledges and zoning concerns.

According to the firm, the wetlands spill over the property lines, and the many streams running through the property will make development challenging.

“Although it looks like a very big parcel of land with many opportunities, it is more complicated than that,” said one representative.

Other challenges noted included the poor condition of the property’s driveway and the lack of additional access. In response to a question from Council President John Beauregard, firm representatives said walking paths could be built on the property but may be expensive due to the need for raised boardwalks.

For the structural and architectural assessment of the property’s 11 buildings, the firm concluded many of the buildings have experienced water damage and are infested with mold. There are also concerns about ADA compliance, termite damage and asbestos.

“The buildings were built in the heyday of putting asbestos in everything,” firm members said. “The buildings are very much of their era, and have been minimally kept up, especially in the last three to four years.”

After reaching out to the community on what they wanted to see the location become, the firm found that residents wanted a place that is peaceful and relaxing where senior, youth, educational, community-based and recreational programs can be held.

Halliwell Review Committee Chairman Jeffrey Porter reiterated that he understood the nostalgia of the former Halliwell School buildings for many residents but said it would not be a smart move to save them due to the time and cost to make them safe again.

“We really have to have a full master plan of the property that we can then pick off items we won’t need as we go,” Porter said. “It’s not worth it to pour money into buildings we are eventually going to tear down.”

Beauregard said that he agreed with Porter and believes there needs to be a solid plan of the area before any measures are taken.

“The plan should be for small steps,” Beauregard said. “It might take five, ten, or twelve years.”

Halliwell Review Committee Member Robert Najarian said that if a master plan was made, they need to keep the momentum going with it and not have it take so long where residents would forget about the project and why they should be supporting it.

“If we don’t put it first and continue the process this year, I think you’re going to see a downshift,” Najarian said. “I would urge that we do something in a progressive way.”

Town Council Committee Member Paul Vadenais said that while the buildings may look promising to be used for something from the outside, it is more challenging inside.

“People don’t realize the cost of the big things, they see a building there and say that it would be a great place to have something go in it like a community center,” Vadenais said. “But what they do not recognize is that the cost to bring the building up to code is very high.”

(3) comments

MPC

I agree with MCC about having minutes posted online. If the Town Council members who campaigned for office by advocating for greater transparency in government really wanted transparency, they would sponsor and vote for an ordinance requiring minutes to be posted on the SOS website. Other communities require boards to post minutes on the SOS website even if they aren't required by law to do so. It takes less than 5 minutes to post them. I doubt we'll see that happen since the current town council members won't even respond to questions or comments made by taxpayers during good and welfare and some elected town officials don't even respond to emails. The School Committee follows the same poor practice. It wasn’t always this way.

I guess these must be the changes the “Yes for NS, Yes for Change!!” group was asking for back in 2016. Several of our current elected leaders were members of that group and were also endorsed by that group as well.

Mike Clifford

MCC

The Senior Citizen Advisory Committee seems to be meeting regularly, files agendas with the Secretary of State, yet has not posted one filing of minutes relative to their agendas. I do not think that this committee speaks for every senior in this town. I am a senior and am far more interested in a multi-use community center, which could be run by a really beefed up and qualified parks and recreation staff. The other option is a a branch of the Y that will afford North Smithfield residents far reduced rates for membership. Most seniors in this town probably have silver sneaker membership which affords Y participation. The Aging Well program in Woonsocket has only one large hall and an adult daycare facility. To my knowledge, all activities for seniors, other than daycare, are held in this hall. Kim Alves is on target. Use Scouters Hall, as is currently being used for activities, provide meals there and maybe bingo or cards in the afternoon. Let’s build a community center, that could also accommodate every member of the community, including some seniors that want more.

MCC

Upon further review, I note that minutes of advisory committees do not necessarily have to file with the SOS, but need to be available for public review. As a matter of government transparency, it might be helpful if these minutes were available online.

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