NORTH KINGSTOWN – After being presented with two options for the restorations of the town hall building, the North Kingstown Town Council voted on Monday to continue the matter to its next meeting, until more information is gathered regarding the use of the future meeting or office spaces.
Discussions around the future use of the historic town hall building, which was vacated in 2016, have been going on for years.
In 2018, voters approved a $27 million bond for various town improvements, including $5 million for the restoration of the building to once again serve as town hall. Following the approval of the bond, the town commissioned an architectural firm, DBVW Architects, to conduct a feasibility study. DBVW estimated that a complete renovation would cost around $12.5 million, leading to an additional $7.5 million bond referendum in 2019.
However, voters rejected the additional $7.5 million bond, leaving the town with a total of $5 million to restore the building.
Late last year, the council once again commissioned a feasibility study from DBVW, requesting plans and cost estimates for the renovation that would not exceed available bond funds.
On Monday, Michael Viveiros, owner of DBVW, presented the council with two options for the restoration, with both including the town council chamber returning to the building, along with meeting or office spaces.
“This is an overview of the tasks that we were engaged for, and this was to look at two options for restoring historic town hall,” Viveiros said to the council. “Part of what we were tasked to do was to also prepare cost estimates and help you develop an overall budget to put either of these options into motion.”
Both options would see the demolition of all non-original additions, as well as the construction of an addition to include a handicap accessible entrance, an elevator and a stairway to the second floor.
Viveiros explained that the primary difference between the two options would be the location of the council chambers on the first or second floor.
Option A would see the chambers on the second floor, with the meeting space on the first, and Option B the opposite.
And both options would see the parking lot moved to the front of the building.
“One of the primary things we would be doing is creating parking in front of the historic town hall. This will provide for accessible parking spaces very close to the entrance,” Viveiros said. “One of the benefits of demolishing the various additions is it provides more space for parking.”
Although Viveiros said it would be “a little snug,” the feasibility study showed that there would be 53 available parking spaces, including spaces along Reynolds Street.
Cost estimates—including hard and soft costs, contingencies and escalations—would be about the same for both options, with Option A projected to cost around $4.89 million and Option B roughly $4.93 million.
Another aspect of the feasibility study included the possibility of moving the Wickford Art Association (WAA) into the meeting space area of the restored building.
In his presentation, Viveiros said that, in order to move WAA into the meeting space area, further renovations would have to be done to the proposed addition, which would include a WAA classroom and kitchen, along with a main electric room and restrooms. The presentation also included the WAA gallery space and office on whichever floor the council chambers are not located, depending if the council moves forward with Option A or B.
However, with WAA in the building, there would be fewer available parking spaces, and could result in the need to replace the existing septic system.
Estimated additional costs to move WAA into the town hall building were projected to be around $750,000 and $800,000.
Town manager Ralph Mollis urged the council to move forward with a plan regarding the restoration of the town hall building, located at 80 Boston Neck Road.
“We really need to know from the council what we want to do with 80 Boston Neck Road,” he said. “At this point we really need to take some action on this building and bring it back to life.”
Mollis also said that the market would ultimately determine the final projected price of the restoration, and only after the council committed to a plan and eventually went out to bid for the project.
“The market will drive what the cost of this is,” Mollis said. “At this point, we have a $5 million budget, so we have to work from there. If the building comes in at $5.2 million, we have to find $200,000. If it comes in at $4.7 million, we have a surplus, so we can accomplish other goals of the council.”
The next question the council would have to answer, Mollis said, is what purpose the meeting space would serve—whether it be for the WAA or otherwise.
While the majority of council members were in favor of Option A, with some expressing interest in moving WAA into the meeting space, they eventually voted to continue the discussion until their next meeting, citing uncertainties around the future use of the meeting space.
Councilor Richard Welch suggested that the council hold off on any decision until Mollis contacted WAA to see if they are still interested in moving into the building.
“I would like to suggest that we hold off on any decision until next meeting,” councilor Richard Welch said. “It would give us a chance to study this proposal, as well as have [Mollis] contact WAA and see if there is still any interest, regardless of what it is. My vote would be to go forward at the next meeting.”
Councilor Mary Brimer, the liaison for the arts council, said she was in favor of moving WAA into the meeting space area of the building.
“In several meetings and encounters with members of the WAA who participate on the arts council, it came up that this might be a good fit to accommodate them in this building, along with council chambers,” Brimer said.
WAA currently rents a building on the beach campus from the town, though Brimer said moving their location to 80 Boston Neck Road would put the association “much closer to the center of Wickford Village.
“It would be a nice fit for them, it would not be intensive on traffic in the neighborhood,” she said. “I for one would be quite comfortable to see the WAA closer to the center of the village.”
Though she said she was in favor of Option A and moving WAA into the building, Brimer also said she wanted to hold off on a vote until the council had a more definitive answer about what will be going into the meeting space.
Councilor Kerry McKay also said he wanted to continue the vote until Mollis had more information about the meeting space, as well as a potential arrangement with WAA.
However, councilor Stacey Elliott said that, even if WAA doesn’t eventually move to the town hall building, there would still be several options for the use of the meeting space, such as a community center or a location for dance and yoga classes.
Another point of concern was that the additional funds required to move WAA into the building would put the project over the $5 million threshold. However, Mollis said that the additional funds could be financed, with WAA leasing the space from the town.
Mollis also said that moving WAA into the building could affect the town hall’s tax exempt status.
While some uncertainties remain, council president Greg Mancini recommended that the council move forward with Option A and allow Mollis to look into options for the meeting space, and potentially enter negotiations with WAA for a leasing arrangement.
“We have a vacant town asset that’s deteriorating every day,” Mancini said. “We can either continue to let it deteriorate or we can do something about it.”
But with Welch, Brimer and McKay showing interest in continuing the vote to the council’s next meeting, Mancini said taking more time to discuss and review the topic can only help.
“I think based on today’s comments, we’re going to move forward at the next meeting,” he said. “I’m disappointed we didn’t move forward this meeting, but I think getting a little more due diligence doesn’t hurt.”
The council voted 4-to-1 to continue the discussion to its next meeting on June 22, when a vote is expected to be taken. Elliott was the only council member who voted against the motion.
Council members requested that Mollis return to them with more information on the meeting space, WAA’s interest in moving to the town hall building, leasing arrangements, bond language and the tax exempt status.