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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Public safety was front and center at Monday night’s Town Council meeting, with the potential future development of a new public safety complex along with the approval of the purchase of 49 riot helmets with full coverage shells among the hottest topics of the evening.

The Town Council unanimously approved the awarding of a contract to DBVW Architects, the same firm which did the redesign for the old Town Hall on Boston Neck Road, for professional architectural and engineering services for a new public safety complex to be built on the same property as the current public safety complex at 8150 Post Road, as well as a coinciding study of additional properties if the architects determine the site unsuitable.

Town Council President Greg Mancini asked why there were no plans for municipal offices at the site included in the proposal, saying he felt combining town offices with a new public safety complex would be the most beneficial for the town from a taxpayer’s standpoint.

Town Manager Ralph Mollis said that while he agreed with the notion, and would be excited to do so, his concern came down to asking North Kingstown voters to approve a large bond initiative at the ballot box in November 2022, saying he felt a $25-30 million price tag would go over better than a combined $45-50 million.

Mollis praised the central location of the current complex, which was first constructed as a fire station in 1957 with the police station component added on in 1976, noting that other available locations such as those in Quonset could create an imbalance in fire apparatus favoring the northern side of town, leading to a scenario where both rescues would be based on that side of town and saying a smaller station could be needed at the current site to hold one of the rescues if that was the case and favored Fire Chief Scott Kettelle’s proposal to build out on the current site towards Intrepid Road, which would allow the police and fire department to continue to use their current complex while the new one is under construction. 

Kettelle seconded Mollis’ concerns regarding location, adding that it could negatively affect the town’s fire insurance rating and with all fire trucks in North KIngstown running with two firefighters each, having backup more than a few minutes away could spell trouble.

“We handle the probability,” Kettelle said. “We’re not prepared to handle the possibilities.” 

Kettelle also said that both departments have simply outgrown the current complex, noting the stark rise in calls both departments have received since when the complex first opened. 

“The facility does not support a police department doing 30,000 calls a year,” Kettelle said, adding that the fire station component of the complex neither supports the weight of or size of modern fire apparatus.

The fire chief called on the Town Council to support the motion in order for DBVW Architect Mike Viveiros to get to work on the complex as well as study its feasibility of installing municipal offices within the complex on an upper floor, the results of which will be presented during a meeting next month. 

Kettelle said that with the 21,000 usable square footage of the current public safety complex being close to the 20,000 required for municipal offices, perhaps the town could look into building a new office on the footprint of the building.

Councilor Mary Brimer expressed her concerns with combining public safety and municipal offices in the same complex, saying she didn’t find it feasible due to the different clientele served at different times and highlighted the potential for accidents if people or drivers weren’t paying attention to emergency vehicles or vise versa.  

Mancini ensured Kettelle that regardless of what decisions end up being made, the public safety complex will be on the ballot in 2022.

Despite some initial concerns, the Town Council also unanimously approved the police department’s purchase of 49 riot helmets with full coverage shells for $21,315 out of the department’s other capital outlay budget.

Mancini said he was “shocked” when he first saw the request, saying he felt such equipment and show of force did not represent the North Kingstown community, as he praised the department’s ability to “masterfully defuse” situations, and said he felt the money would be better suited on some training programs. 

Police Chief Patrick Flanagan said he felt the concerns he heard regarding the equipment stemmed from the word “riot” being in the name, and said the equipment was first and foremost for the protection of his officers from projectiles that could be thrown at them during large protests or riots, adding his officers had assisted their counterparts in Providence, Cranston, the University of Rhode Island and Narragansett in riot control situations without the protection and his concern that one of them could suffer a serious brain injury or worse without them.

Flanagan said there was a potential for flare ups in North Kingstown, particularly if employees of some of the larger employers in the Quonset Business Park were to strike, expressing his concerns in particular with the Teamsters. He also added that the department had already purchased shields and batons for the gear set, but since their final cost was under $5,000, they didn’t need to come before the Town Council for approval. 

Flanagan again added that the equipment was meant to serve as protection for his officers, which may have been the final deciding factor in the unanimous purchase of the equipment. 

In other public safety-related votes, the Town Council approved repairs to the fire department’s reserve ladder truck, the acceptance of a Senate grant to firefighters for $2,000, the acceptance of the 2020 Assistance to Firefighters Grant and opened discussions and approved the request by the police and Town Manager to pursue a Stanton Foundation Grant for the possible establishment of a K-9 unit within the department. 

Outside of public safety, the council voted 4-1 with Councilor Kerry McKay in opposition to holding a public hearing during the Sept. 20 meeting to approve the NK Boosters plan to rename the turf field at North Kingstown High School the “Dick Fossa Memorial Field.” McKay said he meant no offense or disrespect to Fossa, but that he believed naming the field after someone with a longer service to the town’s athletics, such as Al Southwick, would be more appropriate, noting the majority of Fossa’s career as an athletic director was spent in Narragansett while Southwick’s entire career was in North Kingstown. McKay expressed his desire to speak with the Boosters about potentially changing their minds to add additional options to the name list. 

In his Town Manager’s report, Mollis noted that the preliminary results of the 2020 Census showed that North Kingstown’s population had gone up 4.7% since 2010, moving up to 27,732 and coming in slightly higher than the state’s average growth rate of 4.2% over the past decade. 

The Town Council also approved a proposal to apply to be a host community for Arbor Day 2022, discussed the potential adoption of an informational one-page letter to be sent with tax bills to better inform residents of what their taxes were being used for, as requested by Councilor Kim Page, and adjusted the dates for some of the upcoming Town Council meetings, moving the previously scheduled Sept. 13 meeting to Sept. 20, changing the Sept. 27 meeting to a work session and moving the Oct. 18 meeting up to Oct. 4.

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