WOONSOCKET – City officials are moving forward with a plan to sell off a large deposit of gravel in Cass Park, the first major step in what’s expected to be a years-long project to transform the park into a track and football field for Woonsocket High School.
The City Council on Monday voted unanimously to solicit a company to excavate and remove gravel from the park’s undeveloped portions. Public Works Director Steven D’Agostino told The Breeze he estimates there are between 300,000 and 400,000 yards of gravel on the property, or about 600,000 tons.
“Once they OK it and we get started, the timetable is hopefully it’s excavated by sometime next year,” he said.
The proposal traces its roots to October of last year, when Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt announced a plan shortly before the 2020 election to finance the relocation of the WHS football field using the sale of gravel from Cass Park. Though the timing of the announcement drew criticism from her opponents, members of the City Council have since given their tentative support to the project, offering feedback during an update by D’Agostino earlier this year.
D’Agostino told The Breeze last week the city has completed an analysis of material dug from test pits on the site and confirmed the quality of the gravel is good.
“Gravel is a valuable commodity,” he said. “The good Lord only made so much gravel, and it’s made for asphalt and concrete. Every road you drive on and every sidewalk that you walk on has been made with gravel.”
D’Agostino, the owner of a paving company, said the timing is good for the city to get into the gravel business. Many cities and towns, he said, will be looking to repair their roads following the influx of federal infrastructure funds.
He declined to provide an estimated value for the gravel at Cass Park but said he’ll be looking to sell it for the maximum amount.
“I’m hesitant to say that because I don’t want to show my hand. Obviously, I would want as much as we could get,” he said.
The area targeted for development includes a wooded hillside extending from Dionne Track toward Renaud Field off Newland Avenue. The area continues to the Cass Park softball field, where a retaining wall separates the softball field from the hillside above.
“That entire embankment would be gone. From Dionne Track, you would be able to see the high school,” D’Agostino said.
The public works director said the city plans to issue a separate request-for-proposals for installation of a turf field and other equipment related to the project. The parking lot, he said, will likely be completed by city crews.
Members of the City Council earlier this month expressed concerns about the impact of the project on students at Woonsocket High School. City Council President Daniel Gendron said during a discussion of the proposal on Nov. 8 it was a big concern.
“I think this will have a very negative impact on the kids at the high school,” he said.
D’Agostino told The Breeze last week there are ways to address the disruption.
“That’s not a big concern,” he said. “You can have companies start after school begins if it’s not in the summer. Or they could go out a different route.”
D’Agostino said he hopes to start the gravel removal as soon as possible. The entire project, he said, could be complete by 2023.