NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The final year of the decade was another eventful one for the town of North Kingstown, with the future of the Town Hall building at 80 Boston Neck Road once again one of the most talked about local news issues in the area while business continued to boom in the Quonset Business Park with new developments and contracts, and bond projects approved in 2018 for the North Kingstown School District got under way.
Here’s a look back at some of those stories that were the talk of the town in 2019.
Voters reject added funding for Town Hall
Perhaps no other story has been more widely discussed and debated this year in North Kingstown than that of what to do with Town Hall. Since its closing in 2016, the topic has been front and center with numerous ballot initiatives, Town Council meetings, letters to the editor and campaigns about it.
In 2018, voters overwhelmingly approved a $27 million bond initiative for both the town and school department, with $5 million set aside for the renovation and restoration of the building at 80 Boston Neck Road to bring it back up to code and able to be used as the center of town government again as it had been since 1888.
However, plans drafted for the project by DBVW Architects showed that while the Town Hall could be renovated within that price tag to create new council chambers and meeting space, the building could be expanded further with other options up to $12.5 million, that would see potentially all town government offices moved back under one roof. Debate ensued over going beyond the initially-approved budget, with the issue finding its way onto the ballot in November as voters were asked to approve an additional $7.5 million in bonds for the projects.
Supporters of the measure, who launched the “Save Our Town Hall” campaign, argued that approving the measure could be the last chance to preserve the building and that putting all offices into one building made more sense, while opponents argued it was unfair to go back to the voters and ask for additional funds a year after they approved a bond. They also pointed out concerns over having to reshape or relocate Veterans Memorial Park for parking spaces and concerns over the building lying within FEMA High Risk flood zone.
In the end, the latter group carried the issue, as 58 percent of the 4,172 voters who cast ballots in town voted No on Question 1.
In their final meeting of the year on Dec. 16, the Town Council voted 5-0 to re-hire DBVW Architects to explore options and plans for Town Hall within the $5 million budget and move closer to seeing the project become a reality.
Big Year at QBP
The year 2019 certainly was a good one for the Quonset Business Park and the group that oversees it, the Quonset Development Corporation, with greater success looking to be on the horizon in the coming decade.
In August, Rhode Island Fast Ferry unveiled a new $8 million vessel called the Julia Leigh to start a new ferry service from Quonset to Block Island. It’s intended as an alternative to usual routes to the island that depart from Galillee and Point Judith, a plan which created friction with competitors and the Town of North Shoreham.
In September, a study conducted by Bryant University Economics Professor Edi Temaldi and commissioned by QDC, showed the business park supported $4.3 billion in economic output in Rhode Island while serving as the home to 17 percent of the state’s manufacturing workforce, creating $1.28 billion in revenue for Rhode Island households in 2018 while bringing in a combined $128.8 million in both state and local tax revenue.
The study also projected if the trends found by the study continued, the state could expect to see a combined generation of $188 million in tax revenues as well as a $6.2 billion Gross Domestic Product, and have 32,546 jobs across the state supported by the park by 2030.
On Oct. 18, the Port of Davisville hit a total of 242,568 automobiles processed by North Atlantic Distribution, Inc. (NORAD) through the port in 2019, beating the previous record of 241,851 set last year. It was the 11th time in 12 years the port broke its annual auto import record and the earliest such time in the year that they had done so.
The Port of Davisville is also undergoing a $90 million expansion of its Pier 2, increasing its size by 242 feet to allow for a third berth for docking cargo ships that is expected to be completed in the coming months.
In December, the US Navy announced it had awarded a $22.2 billion shipbuilding contract, the largest such contract in the branch’s history, to General Dynamics and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. for the construction of nine new Virginia-class submarines for the Block V generation, with an option to extend to 10 vessels for $24 billion. General Dynamic’s Electric Boat facility in Quonset will be the site of construction for the new Virginia Payload Module (VPM), which will add four additional large payload tubes in the submarines’ midships, increasing their strike capacities, according to Electric Boat, as well as enable increased capacities for special forces, additional weapons, sensors and other special payloads.
The vessels are expected to be launched between 2025 and 2029 and over the coming decade General Dynamics is investing $700 million in expanding its facilities at Quonset which they estimate will create 600 new construction jobs as well as increase the total number of shipbuilders at the site from 4,000 to 5,500 by 2025.
NKSD Bond Projects
When voters approved the $27 million bond initiative in 2018, $13.5 million of it was dedicated to the North Kingstown School Department to complete several projects to revamp and renovate the district’s schools and related facilities. Over the past summer, the first of such projects was completed as many of the district’s elementary school floors were resurfaced and the flagship project, the new turf field at the high school’s Anthony C. Perry Stadium, debuted in the fall.
The new field made its debut on Oct. 3 when the Skippers football team suffered its only loss of their Super Bowl-winning season at the hands of Bishop Hendricken, but a formal unveiling ceremony was held before the football game on Oct. 18 in which town and school officials thanked the community for supporting the bond initiative the year before.
The track surrounding the playing field was resurfaced with a base level making it usable for track practice, however the final layer needed to make it compliant for RIIL-sanctioned meets will need to be installed this coming summer, which will be set to be a busy summer for the district as they will also install an HV/AC system at North Kingstown High School and replace all of the windows at Davisville Middle School during the 10-week window of the summer when such work can occur.
Elizabeth Beisel on ‘Survivor’
Saunderstown native, North Kingstown High School graduate and three-time Olympian Elizabeth Beisel took part in the 39th season of the CBS reality show Survivor, titled “Survivor: Island of the Idols” this fall, finishing in ninth place.
In September, she told The Independent that competing on the show as a castaway fulfilled both a long time dream of hers as a longtime fan and gave her the opportunity to compete and challenge herself again following her retirement from competitive swimming in 2018.
Beisel excelled in athletic and physical competitions on the show, but was wrapped up in a controversy regarding the actions of another castaway, Dan Spilo, who was later removed from the show for accusations of sexual misconduct and was accused of taking advantage of the situation.
Upon the episode’s airing, Beisel issued an apology and message of support to those who accused Spilo as well as all women who have suffered from sexual misconduct and assault.
The next year looks to be big for Beisel, who has an autobiography set for release in February and will continue to work with young athletes to promote both mental and physical well-being, particular on issues related to balancing life as a student-athlete.
From West Bay YMCA to OSCW
When the West Bay YMCA closed its doors for good on April 30, despite a campaign by members to save the facility, it left a hole in the North Kingstown community that had relied on it for recreation and as a community space. An organization called “Save the West Bay YMCA” teamed up with members of the Town Council to look for a new organization to take over the facility and after several initial attempts proved fruitless, Ocean State Job Lot CEO, principal owner and lifelong North Kingstown resident Marc Perlman stepped forward to purchase the building on behalf of the Ocean State Job Lot Charitable Foundation.
After months of renovations, the facility reopened as Ocean State Community Wellness in October. While keeping a standard gym with cardio equipment and weights up front, the pool was removed and the back rooms renovated to hold a wide variety of classes for members, including spin, yoga, Zumba, barre, Pilates, tai chi and boot camp.
An additional membership program called Regymen Fitness, an Austin, Texas-based high intensity group workout program which creates workouts around heart rate. It is the company’s first such location in the Northeast.
Executive Director Kevin Brochu hoped that members see the facility as not just a gym, but an overall community center to promote physical and mental wellness that encourages people to achieve their own personal wellness goals.