NORTH SMITHFIELD – The town will move forward with nearly $1 million in repairs on the old police station, even while also promoting a ballot question this fall for a new police station at the same Smithfield Road site.
Paul Vadenais, of the Municipal Building Review Task Force, presented the facts to members of the Town Council last Wednesday, April 26, working with representatives from Tecton Architects to spell out the immediate needs to secure the “building envelope” in response to insurability concerns from the Rhode Island Interlocal Trust.
The timing of this probably couldn’t have been better, said Vadenais, as they’d heard from the trust that morning seeking an update on how they’ll address concerns at the crumbling station.
A feasibility study is now completed and officials are ready to go out to bid for immediate repairs. Those bids will give them options on how much or little they’re able to cover, said Vadenais, with repairs needed to the roof and facade, as well as asbestos remediation. No interior or programmatic improvements are planned.
Councilor Paulette Hamilton asked how the trust will respond to the repairs being done, and Vadenais said they’re simply looking for progress to be made.
Vadenais also presented the need to seek enabling legislation and prepare for a bond question to pair with a Nov. 9 special congressional election for a new police station. Tecton representatives presented scaled-back plans for a one-story, 14,850-square-foot station.
Rebecca Hopkins, project manager for Tecton, said the majority of areas tested for asbestos came back negative, but some of the plaster came back positive and has crumbled onto the drop ceiling, which has also now been contaminated.
Hamilton reiterated her desire to address “basic human needs” within the building, an issue Vadenais said he’s been concerned about since he was on the Budget Committee in 2010.
Task force members said the police chief’s capital budget could address some of those short-term interior needs for the safety and comfort of staff.
Vadenais said a complete renovation of the building is a complete waste of money and out of the question, as it came back at almost the same price as a new building.
Asked about windows allowing water in, Tecton’s Jeff McElravy said they may need some new sealant, but would not be replaced.
McElravy presented on the many challenges of fitting everything needed on site plans, saying the main way they were able to achieve it was to include sally ports that require drivers to back out instead of pulling right through.
Explaining the reasoning behind doing one story instead of two, McElravy said conventional wisdom finds that doing two is cheaper, but police stations generally have “a lot of stuff that wants to be on the ground floor,” and at this scale, single-story is slightly more cost-effective.
Councilor Douglas Osier made the motion to amend the contract with Tecton to prepare plans for single-story building with cost estimates, including site plans and layout.
Vadenais said he expects the new station cost to settle in between $17 million and $18 million, and a decision will need to be made in the next three or four weeks if it’s going to get on the ballot. Osier asked for a template on the enabling legislation request for a May 15 meeting.
Council President Kim Alves said officials need to zero in on final costs, and should hold public meetings, so residents can see what’s going on. She said it might be better to hold a bond vote in next year’s presidential year so they’re not rushing anything. Councilor Claire O’Hara scoffed at the notion that this project has been rushed, saying, “I’ll be dead by the time the first code goes out.”
Vadenais said public presentations are fine, but they need to be once they know what the solution is, not giving residents 13 sets of plans to choose from, but “this is what we’re proposing,” and here’s the cost.
Officials eventually centered their discussion last week on the idea that meetings with the public should be about promoting the bond question.
Task force members warned against waiting until next year for a bond vote, saying costs will only continue to rise.
Hamilton said she wants people to have as much information as possible to know what they’re voting on.
O’Hara noted that no police station has ever been built in North Smithfield since the early days when a very small one was built in Slatersville, and it’s time to invest in a real station to accommodate today’s needs.
Vadenais assured councilors that just because voters approve spending a certain figure on a new station doesn’t mean all of that money has to be spent.
“You don’t have to spend what you ask for,” he said.
The discussion took on a new wrinkle this week when Hamilton, at Monday’s council meeting, said she feels a moral obligation to call in Eric Army and Signal Works Architecture, who submitted original construction estimates for renovations in 2014, to give updated estimates on what a renovation might cost. She said her motivation is to have option B in the unlikely circumstance of voters rejecting a bond question this fall.
Hamilton said the town isn’t helping its cause by having voters approve spending, as they did here, and then doing nothing with the money.
Beauregard said he doesn’t think such a move would be a wise decision, reading from minutes of past meetings on some of the many reasons Army fell out of favor with the former Public Building Improvement Commission, or PBIC, amid a realization that a remodel was not the way to go.
Hamilton said if officials don’t provide Army the chance to weigh in, she feels they’ll be doing residents a great disservice. Beauregard recalled how ugly things got back then, saying the PBIC was disbanded and the municipal buildings task force formed as a result. He said he also wants to see Army’s experience in building police stations, as that was deemed a shortcoming nearly 10 years ago. Hamilton responded that the plans had sign-off from police.
Osier said he wonders if Army and his company would pass today’s qualifications.
Hamilton said she still hates the idea of investing nearly $1 million into a station that won’t be used long-term.
“It’s like fingernails on a blackboard for me. It grates on me so much,” she said.
Beauregard said there’s already a plan in place for if the bond doesn’t pass, and that’s to do a major renovation, but Hamilton responded that that renovation would need an addition.
Osier then questioned whether plans would still be valid 10 years later, and Solicitor David Igliozzi said the numbers would no longer mean anything, and it would have to be re-bid.
O’Hara said the council shouldn’t be deviating from its plan at the last minute. North Smithfield “always goes the cheapest way,” she said, and a lot of problems arise by trying to save a few dollars.
Beauregard told Hamilton that what people voted on a decade ago is not what they would have gotten, but a scaled back version.
Hamilton proposed spending up to $2,000 to bring Army back for updated estimates, but Igliozzi and other council members weren’t comfortable with that happening at Monday’s meeting, and Igliozzi said it would have to be scheduled for a future meeting.
Vadenais said the $1 million being spent on upgrades is following the will of the voters from years ago. Hiring an architect as Hamilton is proposing would require a request for qualifications today, he said, and can’t be tailored to one person.
Vadenais said no one likes to invest this kind of money in a temporary solution, but voters want a functional police station, and there was never enough money from 10 years ago to be able to do it. He said the plans then had to be scrapped for violations of purchasing procedures.
When Igliozzi said he wouldn’t have a problem if they simply had Army come back on his own if he wants to, without paying him, Hamilton said she has no problem with that.
Vadenais concluded the discussion by saying that Army never actually did the estimate on the job 10 years ago, but it was RGB that actually did that work.
There is no need for a huge police department for a small town, stick to the plan, renovate the present PD. I have a sneaking suspicion this will be like the middle school...have a referendum, if you don't get the votes needed to pass (only 1 vote, which is a huge joke), have a referendum again, typically an off time of a voting cycle, keep doing it until you finally get your way. I believe this was already voted on, stick to what the people voted for, nothing more....
Every time I have walked into that police station, it is like a ghost town, barely any e but the front desk person. No cars. Ya don’t need a giant building for a small police unit. And seeing you let this building go, the same will be with the new one. It is what it is in that town. High taxes, no action, no senior services to brag about, no taxis, and the list goes on. Having lived in other states and towns allows me to compare and see the major differences of what a put together leadership achieves. Cute town that has become a mean town. Your police force cannot even do something about an elderly person who has had neighbors dumping on their property to now have a huge huge pile of branches, old trees, leaves and twigs left in the dark and nighttime while trespassing. Asking for help to stop it is futile. Some police good, but overall, disappointing as to helping the elderly property owners. This pile now encompasses almost a whole side of the elderly owners house.
Yes, we need a new station. Should it be on the edge of town (basically Woonsocket)? In a residential neighborhood? NO! Look at a map people. It should be built new in an area that can service town residents faster with little attention paid to the Dowling Village shoplifters. Scratch the "senior center" for starters. Priorities, regardless of the grant.
PBIC was not disbanded and replaced because Studio Meja fell out of favor. It sure did get ugly, but for politics of a few, not because PBIC didn't do a great job. We did, we were never listened to, I had to rush through updates to council. Town leadership cared even less after the change of the guard.
It was an ugly time for NS politics, funny though how things have continued and even gotten worse, although most of us involved then resigned due to the absolute unwillingness of the incoming council to meet with PBIC. I'm completely sick of people pointing to PBIC as the problem. Whatever letter designation the group is called NONE were successful.
Why still fling nonsense and lies?
That police station in its further deteriorating condition is an absolute embarrassment. It's unsafe and unfitting for human occupancy in it's current state.
That's not the fault of the commissions and task forces (as a whole) who I genuinely believe want the best for NS. Move forward, put a plan in place and actually execute it. It's the council that doesn't work together.
Studio Meja had a plan within budget, that's not what you hear because it didn't fit the narrative of political opponents.
This is the reason nothing ever moves forward here. To the towns leaders, please forget your politics and alliances and JUST DO IT.
Why has the renovations been done on this building ? The money was taxpayer approved many years ago. Study after study after study and hundreds of thousands of dollars has been wasted on these studies. This was the plan from the start.........drag ones feet till the building can no longer be repaired and the force a "NEW" multi-million dollar building that we don't need. The Town leadership has a CHAMPAGNE taste on a Budweiser budget !
Beauregard and O'Hara do not care about the taxpayers or the cost that the town can not afford. They want a new police station regardless of the cost or how it effects the taxpayers who are just trying to get by.
Welcome to the discussion.
Comments that will be deleted include:
What we at The Breeze would truly like to see are comments that add history and context to a story or that use criticism constructively.