Reasoning that the residents of Potowomut deserve the same level of fire protection and rescue service provided the rest of Warwick, and that a fire station could be built and operated at no additional cost to taxpayers, the City Council approved a $2 million bond Monday to build a two-bay station at the site of the Potowomut School. Fire Chief Edmund Armstrong told the council that he aims to have the school razed and the 8,000-square foot station built and operating by June or July of next year.
The 9-0 vote came after Armstrong assured that by relocating an engine company now stationed in Norwood – there are currently two at the station next to Aldrich Junior High School – the Potowomut station could be operated without added personnel or equipment. The new station would have a single engine and be staffed by three firefighters.
As is the practice throughout the city, the engine would respond to emergency medical rescue calls. All Warwick firefighters are trained emergency medical technicians or EMTs. Transport to a hospital would then be provided by a rescue housed on the other side of East Greenwich, at the station on Cowesett Road, or if a Warwick rescue is not available, through mutual aid by East Greenwich.
Projections that the station can be built and operated at no additional costs hinge on elimination of the $350,000 a year Warwick is paying the East Greenwich Fire District to provide Potowomut service. Even with the agreement, Warwick is also responding to all house fires in Potowomut.
“This process has taken a long time,” Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla said. He said plans to build a Potowomut station date to the mid-1990s and, while personnel were added to the department, a site for the station wasn’t found. In 2006, voters approved a $2 million bond to build the station, but with the downturn in the economy, Mayor Scott Avedisian placed a moratorium on issuing additional bonds. The plan for a station resurfaced after the Potowomut School closed and a committee, charged with considering how the building should be used, recommended it. An examination of the building found it would not be cost effective to renovate and the city would be better off tearing it down and building new.
“It’s not an ideal location,” Merolla said of the site, “but it’s better than no fire station on the Potowomut peninsula.”
In addition to the elimination of the East Greenwich payment, Merolla believes the city has the potential of generating revenues by leasing space for a cell phone tower on the property and $250,000 to $400,000 in added payments for rescue runs. He said it is important that Potowomut residents receive the same fire and rescue services rendered in other neighborhoods.
Merolla envisions the station providing residents a building for community use. A meeting room and a police sub-station where residents could address public safety concerns is planned.
Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon questioned whether the station could still be built at the $2 million cost voters approved in 2006. Armstrong projected construction costs at $1.8 million and demolition of the school at $150,000 to $200,000.
“I believe it’s in the ballpark of $2 million,” he said.
Council President Donna Travis called a Potowomut station “long overdue.”
While favoring a station, Ward 5 Councilman Edgar Ladouceur questioned whether spreading personnel over an additional station would affect minimum manning requirements and increase departmental costs. Armstrong assured him that wouldn’t be the case.
“We will do it with the manpower and the equipment we have now,” he said.
Council members also rebuked the School Department for using the school as a dumping ground for unwanted books, equipment and furniture. Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson called the actions of the School Department a “sad commentary” and a display “of utter disrespect for the city and the taxpayers.”