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Traffic barrels block parking spaces near the Kingston Free Library during road construction on Upper College Road Tuesday afternoon.

KINGSTON, R.I. — A road improvement project on Upper College Road this summer has supporters of the Kingston Free Library worried the work will harm the library at the corner of a key entrance to the University of Rhode Island.

They are worried the work will remove dedicated parking spots on Upper College Road, and that a proposal to reconstruct Route 138 would further reduce parking for the library, which occupies the old King’s County Courthouse built in 1775.

“I believe we are on the cusp of a crisis,” Kingston Improvement Association President Susan Axelrod said. “If library circulation drops, as it certainly will with no parking for patrons, South Kingstown will need to evaluate the viability of this library. The town will own a large, beautiful historic building in the heart of Kingston with no parking.”

Interim Town Manager Theresa Murphy said the town is working to have discussions with the library, URI and the Kingston Improvement Association about alternatives to retain the same amount of parking spaces.

“We know how valuable that is to the town and I think it’s also a valuable asset to the university as well,” she said.

Since its founding in 1895, the library has mostly relied on on-street parking. In addition to two of its own parking spaces – one general spot and one handicapped spot – the library has had use of three dedicated spots on Upper College Road and spots along Kingstown Road.

But available on-street parking along Kingstown Road in the village is occupied by URI students for nine months of the year, Axelrod added.

“We approached the town about restricting these spaces in order to minimize or eliminate the student parking but we were unsuccessful,” she said.

University of Rhode Island spokesman Dave Lavallee said that the road work would reduce the on-street parking spots from three to two on Upper College Road.

“The reason for that is, we have to give a little bit more space between the last parking space and where that crosswalk (on Route 138) comes across,” he said. “Those old parking spaces encroached on the crosswalk. Because of new code or regulations, the space remains the same, but there are only going to be two spaces there instead of three.”

He also said six spots the library uses at the Gateway Apartments, URI’s graduate housing complex on the corner of Upper College Road, would be unavailable after Sept. 1.

“We have students who live in those buildings and without those (spaces) we don’t have enough room to accommodate our own students. If we continued to use those spaces to accommodate library patrons, the closest parking for the students is 1.3 miles away.”

Axelrod said the six spots are the result of a “handshake deal” and the library has no formal say in how they are used.

She said the town had explored the possibility of buying land to the north of the library, but that the private property in question has a complicated title history with several owners and also is the site of a colonial burial ground, according to the local historical society.  

The town did manage to agree with Kingston Congregational Church to use the church parking lot across Route 138 for overflow library parking, Axelrod said.

“But If you’ve ever tried to run for your life across 138, it’s not a safe situation,” Axelrod told the Town Council. “I can’t even imagine if you have mobility issues or a couple of kids or a stroller with you, parking at the church, negotiating those granite steps and dashing across the intersection without getting killed. I don’t think that’s a solution for the library, and if all the on-street parking is taken, that will be the only parking for this library.”

However, Lavallee said URI worked with the Department of Transportation to put a signal in place to let pedestrians safely cross Route 138 from the church parking lot to the corner of Upper College Road. It’s part of a new crosswalk at the intersection.

“There’s a button to push that will stop traffic and you can safely cross 138,” he said. “We certainly understand the library’s concerns, but we think this is a decent solution. We understand this is a tough one and have tried to work closely with all the parties. The library is a great resource for  the community.”

The library building was built in 1775 and was one of the five original Rhode Island State Houses. It was transformed into a library in 1895, three years after the founding of URI.

The library uses the first floor to house its collections and the second floor (originally the courtroom) to provide auditorium-style meeting space.

“The library and Potter Hall meeting space are highly valued by all residents of Kingston, and this building is at the heart of our historic Kingston Village,” Axelrod said. “Countless events are held at this library,” such as book clubs, meetings, yoga classes, children’s story time, history lectures, craft workshops, and book signings. The semi-annual Kingston Village Fair centers on the library lawn.

“The plans to reconfigure Upper College Road could certainly be modified to include limited parking dedicated for the library, now before construction begins,” Axelrod said.

She also is asking the town to strike a formal deal for the library to use the six “borrowed” spots in the graduate school housing lot.

The $2.1 million project on Upper College Road, the main route to the Kingston Campus’ quadrangle and its granite buildings, is designed to enhance its beauty and make the more-than-century-old thoroughfare safer and more enjoyable, URI said. The work is expected to finish in the fall.

“This project will serve to enhance the history and beauty of our Kingston Campus, while at the same time put in place features that will calm traffic and make it much more enjoyable for walkers and cyclists,” said Abigail Rider, vice president for Administration and Finance.

The last major work done on Upper College Road occurred in the 1980s.

The current project calls for the reconstruction and realignment of Upper College Road from Route 138 north to Fortin Road, including new sidewalks, granite curbing and lighting; wider sidewalks, crosswalks, and speed tables between Campus Avenue and Fortin Road; and a contiguous bike lane in both directions. In addition, new campus wayfinding signs, and security and parking system amenities are part of the project.

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