NORTH PROVIDENCE – The Town Council has approved going out to bid for major potential improvements at numerous local parks and public recreation facilities, a step that doesn’t obligate the town to do the work using American Recovery Plan Act funds, but gives officials a better idea how far the $9.7 million coming to the town will go.

The two greatest points of emphasis during a May 24 roundtable on the ARPA spending were recreational facilities and street paving, but there was some question as to how much the town should focus on school facilities with ARPA money also coming to the schools.

“I’m excited that the council and I agree to continue to address our priorities of expanding open space, improving our recreational facilities, and to continue road repaving,” said Mayor Charles Lombardi after the meeting.

Town residents gave overwhelming support to investing in recreation and roads, he noted.

Also at question last week was how much of the ARPA money the town should invest in roads today, instead of waiting until asphalt (oil) prices come back down later.

Finance Director Maria Vallee told the council that the town is receiving the ARPA money in two installments, with the second due to arrive soon. A final federal ruling in March determined that any community receiving less than $10 million could use the money for one-time revenue loss, and it could be used for such items as construction or infrastructure. Prohibited uses include pensions, reserves, outstanding debt, and rainy-day funds.

In a town-wide survey, 63 percent of residents wanted to invest in infrastructure, 59 percent into parks and recreation, 52 percent into physical and mental health and wellness programs, 47 percent into small business programs, and 47 percent into public safety. In its survey, the town presented 10 or so ideas for spending.

Vallee recommended hiring a grant consultant on the spending, Integrated Solutions Consulting, but to not spend the money on the bookkeeping aspect of the consultant’s work due to the lessened restrictions on the money given the solid accounting system that the town has. The town does need the help in evaluating various aspects of going out to bid for projects, she said.

Councilor Mario Martone said he likes the idea of “putting it all on them” when it comes to ensuring compliance on the details, but Vallee assured him that all the town essentially has to do is submit the receipt after she checked the box for one-time revenue loss. Many communities are not hiring consulting firms at all after the March ruling, she said.

Councilor Steve DiLorenzo asked why the town needs to hire a consultant at all, saying the town could just accept bids and choose the best, but Vallee said the consultant will bring value to the table.

Lombardi said original restrictions limited spending to mostly water and sewer and broadband upgrades, none of which really fit the town’s needs, which is why he and others went to federal authorities and said they need some leeway on the funds.

On the previously suggested purchase of more park space on the Lincoln side of the Camp Meehan space, Lombardi said Lincoln officials now appear more inclined to let North Providence use the space but not sell it to them.

Councilor Steve Loporchio said he still wants to invest significantly into local roads, but noted that the town will get much less done because of the high cost of asphalt right now. Lombardi said he agreed that roads are a priority, saying he envisions putting some $2 million of the ARPA funds or more into them.

Martone said his personal opinion is to wait on the paving, but Loporchio said there’s no reason the town can’t plan for it now.

Lombardi said paving is always a moving target. He said some residents don’t want to hear it, but when officials know that National Grid is planning to come in and do work next year and they can save money by waiting until the utility does the paving then, it makes more sense to wait. If a road is opened back up after repaving, he said, officials take a beating.

Lombardi said council members should give the administration some paving requests by district, and they can then check those against the work planned by National Grid and Providence Water and “take care of those streets.”

Council members were adamant that they want to see improvements across many athletic complexes, including tennis courts, softball fields, snack bars and others, but they want to sit down with school officials to learn what their plans are for the school money, so they don’t “double spend” any money.

Vallee said they haven’t been able to ascertain from school officials exactly how much ARPA money they’re planning to receive in addition to the $9.7 million coming to the town.

Lombardi noted the great expense in having tennis courts redone, saying the ones at Notte Park cost $130,000.

Councilor Ron Baccala said he wants to see the town take on projects “you’re never going to be able to do again,” saying he’s not a big fan of paying premiums on asphalt.

Martone asked that all proposals for park upgrades include irrigation work and Baccala agreed, saying “Band-Aid” solutions should be avoided.

Councilor Stefano Famiglietti said he would like to see a fence installed around the playground at Stephen Olney Park to address concerns from parents about children escaping the play area, as well as the baseball field at Birchwood and streetscape improvements to the Charles Street corridor in Marieville.

Council President Dino Autiello said he would like to see an inventory done of all fields, adding that with more improvement work planned for both the Pate property and Coletti Farm property for athletic field space, it might be getting to the point where the town doesn’t need so many athletic fields due in part to the decline in youth sports and the need for upkeep.

Autiello said ideas at last week’s meeting were “all over the place,” and each councilor should meet with the administration to come up with a more concrete wish list of their own.

He added that the best approach may be to let the School Department handle such projects as sidewalk upgrades at Centredale Elementary and field upgrades at Ricci Middle School, while the town picks up the tab at Evans Field or Stephen Olney Park.

Martone said it’s not as simple as saying that a property belongs to the schools and that they’re responsible for it, as the town and schools share a building department.

If there was ever a time for town and school officials to put their heads together and “play in the same sandbox,” it’s now, said Baccala.

Lombardi said some of the schools “are a mess” when it comes to needed cement work and paving. He said it took him three years to convince school officials to upgrade the gym floor at Centredale.

DiLorenzo said it seems to him that the town could use an indoor athletic complex given the number of outdoor spaces coming online, saying it could be used year-round. Baccala agreed, saying such a facility could be a future revenue source as well.

DiLorenzo suggested the area of the former public safety complex on Mineral Spring Avenue for such a facility. Lombardi said they’ll look into that idea, but would have to be careful about putting such a facility in too much of a residential area due to its impact on the neighborhood.

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