NORTH KINGSTOWN – After years of deliberations and referendums, the North Kingstown Town Council voted on Monday to develop a request for proposals (RFP) for the restoration of the town hall building.
The council will be seeking RFPs from construction companies to restore the historic town hall building, which was vacated in 2016. The restoration plans will see the council chambers returned to the building, located on the second floor of the building, and a meeting or office space on the first floor.
The restoration of the building will also include the construction of an addition, making space for a handicap accessible entrance, an elevator and a stairway to the second floor. The plan will also see non-historic additions taken down.
Discussions surrounding the future use and restoration of the town hall building have been going on for years.
In 2018, voters approved a $27 million bond for various improvements to the town, including $5 million for the restoration of the building to once again serve as town hall. After voters approved 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.
Following the rejected referendum, the council commissioned another feasibility study from DBVW, requesting plans and cost estimates for the renovation that would not exceed available bond funds.
But when Michael Viveiros, owner of DBVW, came before the council earlier this month to present the feasibility study, council members raised questions about plans for the meeting or office space.
In the study, Viveiros included plans for the Wickford Art Association (WAA) to occupy the first floor of the building. However, WAA’s inclusion presented a number of issues, from an additional cost to whether the bond language would allow the association to occupy the building.
And while Viveiros estimated that the total cost to restore the building would be roughly $4.89 million, the inclusion of WAA would also raise the estimated cost to over $5 million.
At its June 8 meeting, the council ultimately voted to continue the discussion to Monday, allowing town manager Ralph Mollis to make inquiries into WAA’s interest in occupying the building.
But on Monday, Mollis said that WAA was not interested in leaving its current location in the town beach complex, which it has leased through 2038.
Before the council voted to move forward with an RFP for the town hall building, councilor Kerry McKay called into question the price per square-foot, which, according to Viveiros’ estimated total cost, would be roughly $680.
“There isn’t a person in the community of North Kingstown who spends $700 a square foot on their property, their house, their business,” McKay said. “I think it’s imprudent of us to spend taxpayer dollars on this.”
“The taxpayers said up to $5 million, that doesn’t give us a clear path to spend $5 million foolishly,” he continued.
However, council president Greg Mancini pointed out that the price per square-foot to restore a historic building had to be calculated differently than other types of construction or restoration.
“In most cases, the square footage issue is very relevant,” Mancini said. “I don’t think that’s the hand we’ve been dealt in this situation.”
He also said that it was the previous council who approved the referendum in 2018, which asked voters to allow the town to use the $5 million bond for restoration of the town hall.
“The previous council voted to let the taxpayers decide whether they wanted to spend $5 million on renovating town hall,” he said. “They approved that $5 million by an overwhelming vote of 76 percent. I think we have an obligation to fulfill the will of the taxpayers.”
“In addition to that, we have spent additional time, effort and money to move forward with this project,” he continued. “I would respectfully ask you to consider this, not through the prism of the square foot costs, but through the prism of the will of the voters. They have spoken, we represent them, and they want to make a modest investment in our town hall.”
Mollis also pointed out that the estimated cost per square-foot included soft costs, contingencies and design plans, along with the cost for construction.
Council Richard Welch, who eventually voted against moving forward with the RFP, also raised concerns about the estimated cost for the project, adding that the planned addition was too contemporary for the historic building.
“What I saw was the elevation to the left of the building was very contemporary and not at all architecturally like the existing building,” Welch said.
He also said that the planned restoration would leave the building with less space than it currently has.
Mancini reiterated that it was the previous council, which Welch and McKay also sat on, who set the plans in motion.
“You guys made the motion and the voters approved it,” he said. “We’re exercising the will of the taxpayers.”
Councilor Stacey Elliott said that, even if the restoration would leave the building with less space, the council owed it to the taxpayers to complete the project.
“We got the OK to spend $5 million on this project, and we still haven’t done anything,” Elliott said. “We owe it to the taxpayers to move forward and to do what they asked us to do, which is, fix this building.”
Another point of concern for some council members was the outlined cost for Viveiros to draft detailed construction specifics, which will be included in the RFP for developers to base their proposals on. Viveiros included a $500,000 cost estimate to complete the construction specifics, as well as oversee the project in accordance with the drawings.
While McKay and Brimer suggested that the council could move forward without the construction specifics, Mollis said that the specifics would be necessary for responders to the RFP to provide the council with an accurate pricing of the project.
Mollis also said that the market would drive the ultimate price of the restoration, and the RFP process would give the council a better idea of the total cost.
“My experience is that you are not going to get real-time, accurate pricing based on the drawings you have to date,” he said. “We can’t draw a box on a piece of paper and go out to bid, you’re not going to get real pricing.”
And though McKay and Brimer questioned the $500,000 price tag for Viveiros’ services, Mollis said that 10 percent of the total cost ($5 million) was standard.
“From soup to nuts, to bring him on board, have him do the drawings, handle the RFP for us and then oversee the project in accordance with the drawings, their standard is about 10 percent of the total cost,” he said.
Mancini said that, “based on the actions of this and the previous council” and “based on the actions of the voters,” the council should move forward with an RFP that includes detailed construction specifics from Viveiros.
The council voted 4 to 1 to approve moving forward with an RFP for the restoration of the town hall building, requesting plans for the council chambers to be located on the second floor and a meeting space on the first. The RFP will also include construction specifics from Viveiros.