NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Amidst the ongoing debate over future use of the historic Town Hall, one member of the North Kingstown Town Council — Richard Welch — said panel colleagues should give local voters more information about renovation expenses for the old town hall before scheduling a vote for additional spending.
The rest of the panel disagreed at a meeting last month, and voted 4-1 to let voters decide in a November referendum whether another $7.5 million should be added to $5 million already approved for renovating the building.
The debate pits the panel’s former president against some colleagues elected last November, as well as one holdover from his term. In an email interview, Welch gave a breakdown of why he opposed the measure — and Town Council President Greg Mancini responded with his perspective.
Welch objects to some parking spaces across the street from the 80 Boston Neck Road location of the historic old town hall building. He said he is concerned about safety of employees and town residents crossing the street.
Mancini said this arrangement is common for city halls in the state and local businesses. Traffic laws will protect them at the old city hall as they do elsewhere, he argues.
Welch said that returning offices for most town employees to the town hall would add unnecessary expenses for parking and building size. Mancini said having the bulk of town employees in one location, as they are now, provides convenience for all citizens.
Welch further argued that a previous architectural study lacked a number of specific detailed costs such as plumbing, fire suppression, foundation, etc. Mancini said a previous council, of which Mr. Welch was president, defined the scope of work for these architects and paid them $72,545 in taxpayer dollars.
“If Mr. Welch did not think there was not enough detail why didn’t he increase the architects’ scope of work?”
Welch said a recommendation to demolish two wings of the old building is not needed. Mancini responded that architects made a lengthy presentation on the subject.
Welch said there’s no need for the vote to take place without more planning, since there is no emergency or interruption in services.
“We will be asking the public to vote for something that without the information that any bank would ask for; definite plans and specifications that we do not have at this time,” he said.
“There is no emergency,” he said, “to move forward on this since we currently have a location that serves our community well.”
Mancini replied, “Time is of the essence. The longer we wait the more the building will deteriorate and the more expensive it becomes. Mancini said that voters appear to support spending money to improve town buildings, since the electorate last fall approved $27 million for that purpose, including the $5 million for the town hall renovation plans.
“There were no specific plans for any of these projects, just an acknowledged need by the taxpayers. Once the financing is secured detailed plans will be developed before any taxpayer dollars are spent for any of these projects,” he said.
Welch also said that the architectural renovation plans for the old town hall need to be updated. Mancini countered that in the architects’ presentation to the former council they had enough detail in their proposal and included a number of professionally established industry escalators for time, inflation, and materials’ price increases.
The architects recently reaffirmed these numbers, he added.
Welch said that he believes that the “project could come in for the $5 million that has been approved by the voters when you remove some of the demolition and construction from the project. We do not know this from the information that we have at this time.”
“We have the time to do what I am asking,” he added.
Mancini replied, “The incredible irony here is that the only project we do not have a plan for is the one in which the taxpayers approved $5 million for. I believe we should combine these funds and the $7.5 million we are asking the voters to implement the plan our architects developed and save our historic and vacant town hall.”