NORTH KINGSTOWN – After voters rejected a $7.5 million bond referendum earlier this month for the renovation of the town hall on Boston Neck Road, the North Kingstown Town Council on Monday discussed the fate of the building. The council ultimately instructed the town manager to negotiate a contract with an architect, who would then survey the town hall building and return to the council with two or three options for the future use of the building.
The town hall, which was built in 1888, was vacated in 2016 and has remained out-of-use since, with town employees are currently being housed at the municipal offices on Fairway Drive.
Last year, voters approved a bond that included $5 million toward the restoration of the town hall building, however, an architectural firm hired by the town, DBVW Architects, estimated that a complete renovation would cost around $12.5 million. And because of the full-scale estimation in DBVW’s feasibility study, the town council approved the special referendum to take place asking voters to approve the additional $7.5 million for the complete renovation–which voters rejected on Nov. 5.
However, in the company’s feasibility study, DBVW also included two other options for the building: Alternate 1 and Alternate 2.
Alternate 1, which DBVW estimated would cost $6.8 million, would include an 11,000 square-foot addition, with council chambers and select town offices returning to the building.
Alternate 2, on the other hand, was estimated to cost $3.3 million and would see 1,500 square foot addition and the return of council chambers to the second floor of the building, with no town offices included.
The feasibility study was conducted and presented by Michael Viveiros, a principal architect of DBVW.
While the town currently has $5 million in bond funds for the purpose of restoring the building–enough to cover the projected cost of Alternate 2–members of the council discussed the possibility of further options for the use of the funds and the future of the town hall building.
Council President Greg Mancini made the suggestion that the town once again contract DBVW–particularly Viveiros–to do a survey of the town hall building and return to the council with two or three options for the future of the site, including further consideration of an updated Alternate 2 option.
He also cited Viveiros’ previous feasibility study for the town as a reason to rehire him.
“We actually need a professional to figure out what our options are,” Mancini said. “Our architect would be able to accomplish that objective. What [Viveiros] did last time was he sat with department heads, figured out their space needs, and from there he developed the three options they had.”
“We have a budget, we have one building,” he continued. “And I think he’ll know what possible options we face.”
From there, Mancini suggested that the council should hold a meeting to allow residents to give additional input on the future of town hall.
“And then, I would suggest that we would go to public comment for additional input from the citizens,” he said. “The professional that we hired could give us some professional input of what our options are [ …] If we enlist the assistance of a professional I think they’ll help guide us.”
Mancini also noted that DBVW and Viveiros had a very good reputation and, because of the previous feasibility study, was intimately familiar with the town hall building. Because of that familiarity, Mancini said the new options for the building would be much easier to compile.
Councilor Kerry McKay said that, while he wasn’t opposed to entering into a contract with DBVW for a further survey of the building, he thought it was imperative for the council to include a mission statement with that direction, suggesting that the Alternate 2 option be the central focus.
“I think it’s very important that, without some kind of mission statement on the end-use of the building, we’re going to be floundering all over again,” McKay said. “The proposal that fits the budget that we have for this is [Alternate 2].”
Councilor Mary Brimer said she had concerns about hiring an architect before the council had a definitive plan forward. She also proposed that the council hold an open discussion with residents before contracting an architect.
“I have concerns about what it is we’re doing. And before [an architect] starts running the clock and billing us [...] I like the suggestion of having an open discussion of what we’re going to put there before we retain them and move forward,” Brimer said. “[DBVW is] extremely reputable but to avoid cost overruns I think we need to slow down.”
Both McKay and Brimer also said they would prefer that the council chambers be on the first floor, not the second, as was proposed in the Alternate 2 plan.
And councilor Richard Welch expressed similar unease with the council hiring an architect.
“I think before you go anywhere, you need to determine what you’re going to do with it,” Welch said. “This council needs to decide what the end-use of the building is going to be, and you haven’t done that.”
Welch also said he was not in favor of returning the council chambers to the town hall building.
However, councilor Stacey Elliott said she was in favor of hiring an architect to produce two or three options, including an updated Alternate 2 option, that could be completed within the $5 million bond funds.
“Within that $5 million budget, is there another option for us?” Elliott said.
Mancini said that the whole point of contracting DBVW Architects would be to provide the council with a handful of options while continuing to maintain a focus on Alternate 2.
“Hopefully, the professional will give us a couple of options, not too many,” he said. “It will be based on what makes financial sense for the town and whether there’s a better fiscal use for that facility.”
The council unanimously approved a motion allowing town manager Ralph Mollis to enter into negotiations with DBVW Architects to enter into a contract with Viveiros. If and when a contract is agreed upon, it will then be put in front of the town council for consideration. And if the council approves the contract, Viveiros will return to the council with two to three options for the future of the town hall building, including an updated Alternate 2 option.