NORTH KINGSTOWN – After years of discussion surrounding the future use of the shuttered Wickford Elementary School, the North Kingstown Town Council took a major step forward in the redevelopment of the building. On Monday, the council voted to allow the town manager to enter into negotiations with construction company Hathaway Holdings, who proposed to purchase and transform Wickford El into condominiums.  

When the town went out to bid last year, it received three proposals for the redevelopment of the building. These proposals came from Hathaway, Unisource/Renewable Energy Consultants and Fernandes Construction, who all submitted plans to turn the building into either an apartment complex or condominiums.

While Hathaway proposed condominiums for purchase, Unisource and Fernandes’ plans were to redevelop the building into an apartment complex on a rental basis.

Once the proposals were submitted, they were looked over by a municipal review team, consisting of town manager Ralph Mollis, planning director Nicole LaFontaine, finance director James Lathrop and solicitor Matthew Callaghan, among others. In February, the review team wrote to the council that it was recommending the proposal by Hathaway Holdings, though it added that all respondents to the RFP were capable of redeveloping the school.

However, when the council met last month, concerns were raised around the uncertain sewer costs that will be associated with the project, with the council ultimately voting to continue the discussion, in order to further discuss the sewer assessment for the redeveloped Wickford El building.

Sewers were recently installed in Wickford, with the costs borne by the users, though the actual assessment for the redeveloped Wickford El has not been set.

Ahead of Monday’s meeting, the council and Mollis discussed aspects of the sewer connection to the building, and what the council would like to see accomplished during negotiations with the developer.

“I received direction from the council during executive session as to what they would like to see accomplished in negotiations relative to sewer assessments and covering the infrastructure costs relative to bringing sewers to Wickford Elementary,” Mollis explained in an email on Tuesday.  

During Monday’s meeting, Mollis said that the council could direct him to enter into negotiations with one developer or multiple developers.

“We don’t want to negotiate in public, but the question before the council is do you want me to enter into negotiations with a developer, do you want me to enter into negotiations with multiple developers, or do you not want me to enter into negotiations whatsoever?” he asked.

 After explaining to Mollis what they would like to see accomplished during executive session, and some discussion during the regular meeting, the council voted to allow the town manager to enter into negotiations with Hathaway Holdings.

Hathaway originally offered a $351,000 purchase price for the Wickford El building and property, adding that it planned to redevelop the building into condominiums.

The redeveloped building would include 34 condominiums, all of which would be available for purchase and not for rent, with each unit priced between $395,000 to $490,000.

While the redevelopment would not see an expansion of the building’s footprint, it would include a two-story addition.

Hathaway also estimated that the expected time frame for the redevelopment would take around 19 months.

“The proposed addition has a good design that will be nicely scaled and incorporated into the existing structure,” the municipal review team stated. “The addition will be inset to lessen the visual impact from the road and be lower in profile than the original portion of the building.”

The team also highlighted the ownership approach for the condominiums, which would allow each individual unit to be taxed.

Though the team said all the developers were “well capable of redeveloping Wickford Elementary School,” they unanimously agreed that Hathaway was “the best team to redevelop the former Wickford Elementary School property in a manner that will be a good neighbor to the surrounding area, will bring vibrancy to the village and meet the town’s goals stipulated in the RFP.”

Before voting, councilor Kerry McKay requested that Mollis keep in touch with the other developers, in case negotiations with Hathaway fall through.

“I would love [Mollis] to keep our options open to us,” McKay said.

Mollis explained that the negotiations with Hathaway will take place in executive session, where council members can give guidance as to what they want to accomplish, specifically regarding the sewer assessment.

The council voted 4 to 1 to allow Mollis to enter into negotiations, with councilor Richard Welch voting against the motion.

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