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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Members of the North Kingstown Town Council met Monday night via Zoom and approved the awarding of the construction contract for the renovation of and additions to the old Town Hall located at 80 Boston Neck Road to Cranston-based firm Tower Construction by a 3-2 party line vote, with all three Democrats, Town Council President Greg Mancini and Councilors Katie Anderson and Kim Page, voting in favor of the contract while both Republicans, Councilors Mary Brimer and Kerry McKay, opposed it. 

The contract, which is funded by the bond initiative approved by voters in 2018, is worth $3,933,000 with an authorized five percent project contingency ($196,650) in case of unforeseen construction costs for a grand total of $4,129,650, which falls within the $5 million budgeted by the bond initiative. The approval of the contract was part of the evening’s consent agenda, as it pertained to the approval of a contract.

Brimer asked if the Rhode Island Department of Transportation had approved a PAP for the project yet, which Town Manager Ralph Mollis said had not yet occurred but was being anticipated shortly by the architect, a sentiment shared by Planning Director Nicole Lafontaine, adding that all parties have been moving through with the project, which is slated to be completed next year. 

Brimer expressed her concerns that the town may not be following a normal process in approving the project and expressed concerns about potential legal action that could result down the line. Mollis said he believed it was appropriate to approve the contract at the current moment with the condition that it would be effective once the PAP was approved, a notion Brimer disagreed while McKay also shared her concerns. 

Mancini stressed the importance of approving the project, noting the Town Hall has been unoccupied for five years and that it has almost been three years since voters approved the bond initiative, which he said signified their desire to see the building renovated and re-occupied. With Page calling the vote based on Mollis’ conditions, it passed 3-2 on party lines. 

In other business, North Kingstown Fire Chief Scott Kettelle announced that the Insurance Services Office (ISO) had granted North Kingstown a Class 2 rating, the second highest rating given by the ISO, making the town only one of nine communities to receive such a distinction. Kettelle thanked the Town Councils he’s worked with over the past five years as well as Mollis for their continued support of public safety in town and ensuring this goal could be reached. 

“That’s a victory lap for all of us,” Kettelle said. “This is a proud moment for this fire department.”

The Town Council also approved two installations in town: one a request by the North Kingstown School Department’s Office of Family Learning and the North Kingstown Prevention Coalitions plan to install signs with a QR code that when utilized by using a smart phone allows the user to see resources if they’re dealing with a mental health issue, are seeking treatment options or tools to relieve stress, and the other the installation of a tablet plaque to signify the Tomb of the Unnamed Soldier in a new Never Forget Garden at Updike Park.

On the mental health signs, a directive which has in part been led by Anderson, who is a mental health professional, the idea came to town through a similar program implemented by the Chariho Youth Task Force. Outdoor signs are made of wood while waterproof paper signs were more envisioned for inside use, with each saying “you are not alone” before offering three options: one for a mental health crisis, one for local resources and the other with tips for stress reduction. 

Anderson, who was joined by the North Kingstown Prevention Coalition’s Kathy Yeager and the Chariho Youth Task Force’s Dan Fitzgerald, said the intitiative was of particular importance now with a 30 percent increase in people seeking mental health treatment since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, something she said particularly was affecting women, young people and frontline workers. 

According to Fitzgerald, since the signs were installed in the Chariho district, they have been utilized over 1,500 times and appear to be successful. 

Both Mancini and Brimer expressed concerns that the sings, particularly the wooden ones, could become targets of vandalism or set a precedent to approve more signs for a variety of organizations on town property. While they all agreed on the importance of it, Brimer called for a six month approval so the town could review the success and see if it was worthwhile to keep full time, which Mancini and Anderson both endorsed and passed on a 5-0 vote.

The tablet for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was also approved by a unanimous vote, and was brought forward by Will King of the Society of the Honor Guard for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Working with Matthew McCoy, they determined Updike Park as the ideal location in town and are seeking a dedication for the tablet and garden, which will be in the center of the park away from the obelisk and a few feet away from the Updike Park sign, during Veterans Day ceremonies this upcoming Nov. 11. 

In his Town Manger’s report, Mollis congratulated Assistant Director of Personnel/Benefits and Payroll Administrator Haley Lattinville on being named a 2021 Rising Star Award winner by Providence Business News for her work in developing North Kingstown’s first off-site training program for department heads and supervisors as well as developing the town’s COVID leave policy during the early stages of the pandemic. She will be recognized by the publication during a ceremony April 29.

Mollis also gave an update on COVID vaccinations, saying that with the completion of the second round of vaccinations for teachers that was held Friday, the town will no longer be offering any more vaccinations on its own and that all such actions will be handled by the state until further notice. He also noted that the North Kingstown Fire Department has now vaccinated 93 percent of its members.

In the closing moments of the meeting, there was a brief exchange between McKay and Mancini as McKay demanded a return to in-person Town Council meetings, saying that the technological issues that delayed the meeting and the ability to host meetings in large rooms such as school gymnasiums where meetings could be held gave little reason to continue the online-only format. Mancini said he wanted to get back to in person meetings as well, but only when they can be done safely and noted that he didn’t know of a town that wasn’t utilizing an online platform in their meetings. 

Brimer pointed out that their State of Emergency declaration for the town expires the night of their April 26 meeting and that a plan to return to in-person meetings could be made then. Mancini said he would be willing to review it depending on the state of the pandemic and vaccinations in town, noting his own upcoming first dose of the vaccine, but stressed again he would only support a return to in person meetings if it was deemed safe enough to do so. 

The next Town Council meeting will be a joint session with the School Committee that is set to take place Wednesday at 6 p.m. 

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