200611ind WES

The North Kingstown Town Council moved one step closer to selling the property that once housed Wickford Elementary School, agreeing to allow town manager A. Ralph Mollis to negotiate with developers Hathaway Holdings on a deal that would turn the site into a series of condominiums.

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The North Kingstown Town Council voted 4-1 Monday night to approve a Request for Proposal for the redevelopment of the old Wickford Elementary School into condos, allowing Town Manager A. Ralph Mollis the ability to negotiate with the developers Hathaway Holdings on a purchase and sale agreement for the property.

The proposal from Hathaway, in partnership with Newport Collaborative Architects, was the favorite of the town’s Planning Department as well as much of the council, but concerns drove the proposal to a 2-2 vote during the May 18 meeting, tabling the issue to Monday. Councilor Richard Welch was the dissenting vote.

The proposal calls for 34 apartments to be built in the former elementary school, with the building being expanded to accommodate rooftop townhouses with a view overlooking the village and according to the proposal, Hathaway and NCA believe they can have the project completed within 19 months of breaking ground.

Before the meeting got underway, Town Council President Greg Mancini paid tribute to former North Kingstown High School teacher, coach and first female athletic director in Rhode Island, Joan Pilson, who died on May 21, noting her tireless support of women’s sports.

Mancini also remarked on the recent protests happening both across the country and around the world following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other unarmed African-Americans at the hands of police officers, as well as the overall national discourse. 

“The past many nights at the Mancini dinner table we have had heartfelt conversations about the senseless death of George Floyd, long-time unacceptable injustices and the current state of our country,” Mancini said. “Clearly, our nation is shaken, angry, and justifiably frustrated that yet another black person could die under such circumstances. Sadly, this is not new territory. While the problems happening in Minneapolis and other cities are not happening in our community we have to do our part to end this terrible cycle, heal this divide and move our community, our state and our country forward.”

He called on people to reflect upon the heartbreak and challenges of the Floyd family as well as developing a better understanding of the daily issues minorities face in this country and speak up against injustice, while also understanding the challenges law enforcement officers face in their careers, praising the work of the North Kingstown Police Department, and said change could only come through peaceful demonstrations and that he hoped the people of North Kingstown continue to ensure they’re welcoming of all regardless of race and ethnicity. 

Following the opening remarks and public comment, the council heard from Michael Viveiros of DBVW Architects, who gave a presentation on the two options for the renovation of Town Hall that fit within the $5 million bond initially approved by voters in 2018.

Both options call for the demolition of all non-original additions to Town Hall, roughly 3,900 square feet, which could be used to expand parking, and will add a handicap-accessible entrance, elevator and a stairway to the second floor. The existing basement will only be used for domestic water and fire services per the proposal.

Option A, which was favored by most of the council, calls for a 100 seat Town Council Chamber on the second floor, where it was originally located, as well as restrooms and space for offices and meetings on the first floor. Option B swaps the floors, with office space and restrooms located on the second floor while the first floor would mainly consist of an 82 seat Town Council Chamber.

With all cost factors considered, Viveiros said the total price tag for Option A is $4,896,723, while Option B’s price tag is $4,930,893, though Mollis acknowledged the final cost will be determined by the market. 

Councilor Mary Brimer asked about the possibility of keeping the rear addition of the building to be used as a community center, adding she had spoken with members of the Wickford Art Association who expressed interest in moving into the space. Viveiros said it was possible and had a plan for such a move, but estimated it would add an additional $750,000 to $800,000 to the total cost, something which Brimer said could be partially offset by the relinquishing of the current WAA building to the town while also putting the art association closer to the center of Wickford.

Mollis seemed to be intrigued, adding there are a “variety of options” him and the town can explore with the structure, with Welch saying that Mollis should reach out to the WAA to see if they’re still interested before proceeding. 

Councilor Kerry McKay said he felt the cost per square footage was high for a building that’s already standing and owned by the town, while Councilor Stacey Elliott was concerned about losing parking spaces if they kept certain additions.

The council took it to a vote and decided 4-1 to table the decision until their next meeting on June 22, with Elliot as the dissenting vote. 

The council also heard from the Water Department regarding the town’s aging water mains and potential changes in fees, a topic which was first read to the council during their Sept. 9, 2019 meeting, and presentations were given by Louis Ragozzino, Southern MA/RI Wastewater Group Leader for Wright-Pierce and Water Department Director Tim Cranston. 

In his presentation, Ragozzino said that while North Kingstown has a total of 160 miles of water mains, 85 percent of them were over 50 years old, while 30 percent were over 80 years old and the town experiences an average of 10 main breaks each year. Ragozzino also highlighted needed repairs to the wells, tanks and buildings of the departments, and noted that a major natural disaster could flood out the town’s wells. 

Ragozzino also dealt with manganese removal in his presentation, a mineral considered a Secondary Drinking Water Standard that can affect water coloration and stain plumbing fixtures and clothing per the report. While Rhode Island currently does not have a Maximum Concentration Limit for the mineral, Massachusetts does at 0.3 mg/l, and a five year progressive rate increase schedule indicated that building for such a removal standard would cost $15,833,000 over five years, while without it, that same period would see a cost of $3,833,000.

Cranston endorsed the latter of the two plans, and laid out the cost increases over the same five year period per consumer with a fully-funded department, seeing an increase of $2.28 per month in Fiscal Year 2021, $2.49 per month in FY22, $2.80 per month in FY23, $3.14 per month in FY24 and $2.87 per month in FY25.

Welch asked how much money the department had set aside to use, which Cranston said was about $7 million but added that they’d need to have a time frame in order to implement it, and the Town Council voted 5-0 to bring the topic to a second public hearing.

Mollis gave a status report on the town’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and praised the efforts of all involved to help out the town.

“We’re moving rapidly and that’s something we should be proud of,” Mollis said, noting that the town expects public restrooms and playgrounds to re-open this weekend. 

While the town is recovering and reopening, Mollis said he still needed an authorization to extend the town’s State of Emergency order by two weeks, saying that it allows the town to assist with businesses reopening under Phase II of the state plan as well as helping citizens of North Kingstown begin to return to  more normal life. 

The next Town Council meeting is scheduled for June 22 at 7 p.m. and will once again be conducted over the video conference program Zoom, and meetings can be accessed by visiting the town’s website, northkingstown.org

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