November 24, 2014
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Plans for new fire station outlined
John Howell
Warwick Beacon photos
NOT ENTIRELY COMFORTABLE: Thomas Casey Greene, at left, sought assurances that a rescue would be based at the new station. Chief Armstrong said he is looking at that as part of a response time study of the city. With Greene are Kate Greene and Peter Branch, new head of school at Rocky Hill School.

Mayor Scott Avedisian came armed with photographs of the Potowomut School as he and Fire Chief Edmund Armstrong met with about 30 residents Monday night at Rocky Hill School.

What residents saw in the photos angered them and added credibility to the administration’s plan to demolish the school and build a two-bay fire station and community room on the two-acre site.

A fire station has long been on the list for Potowomut, the Warwick stepchild separated geographically by East Greenwich. Voters approved a $2 million bond in 2006 to build it.

“We didn’t move initially because the land was very expensive,” Avedisian told the gathering.

Virginia Mathewson, who has lived in Potowomut since the 1950s, was the prime mover for the meeting. Mathewson attended committee meetings exploring future uses for the school, and believes it would be a mistake to raze the building.

The mayor said the city looked at land at Goddard Park, but the state wouldn’t part with any of the property. Those initial efforts to build a station faded as Avedisian put a moratorium on issuing more city debt in an effort to rein in city costs. That all changed after the school reverted to the city and the city considered ending its agreement with East Greenwich for fire services, at a savings of about $350,000, and relocating an engine company. Relocation of the three-man engine company means the station could be staffed without any additional personnel or equipment costs.

Now, if the City Council approves a contract for demolition of the school next month, the administration aims to move ahead with the new station and possibly have it up and operational within the year.

It was the pictures of classrooms piled with boxes of textbooks, stoves from cooking classes, chairs and desks – many of them seemingly tossed about – that had people questioning its future maintenance. In addition, Avedisian said leaks in the building were resulting in mold.

“Who’s responsible?” one resident wanted to know.

Avedisian speculated that the school department didn’t deliberately turn the building back to the city as a “tactical” move to prevent a charter school. A local group won a federal grant for its proposed charter school, but, without a location, the grant expired and the plans went by the wayside.

Cleaning the building left by the school department, the mayor estimated, would cost $3,000. But to restore it for other uses, including removal of asbestos and other renovations, he put at $800,000 to $900,000.

“The best use is to remove the school and build a fire station. We’ve looked at all the options,” he said.

That removal has already started. Windows have gone to the Department of Public Works; the boiler went to the Police Station and ornamental features have been removed for the possible inclusion in the fire station.

What about putting the station on Ives Road, giving it better access to homes in the Bayridge section of Potowomut? Mathewson pointed to a two-acre parcel across from Goddard Park that she thought the city could acquire for $300,000.

Avedisian questioned what the city would then do with the school, adding there wouldn’t be sufficient funds to build the station if the land had to be purchased. Armstrong put the cost of the station at $1.6 million to $1.8 million. He said it would be designed to fit well with the residential neighborhood. In addition to the community room, which he said could be used as a shelter during storms, the station would be used as a sub-station by police. Also, it may be used as a backup to the city’s emergency operations center and to house a server to store duplicate city data. The school playground would remain and trails would be developed, the mayor said.

The prospect the station radio tower could also be leased by wireless phone companies, generating an estimated $25,000 a year, was seen as a positive. Cell service in Potowomut is spotty and this could be an improvement.

But for all the benefits of the station, there were reservations.

Armstrong said he is in the midst of doing a response time study for the deployment of equipment and personnel. It has not been determined whether the rescue in Cowesett would be relocated to Potowomut. If not, the rescue would need to travel through East Greenwich. Conversely, if the rescue were stationed in Potowomut, it would have to go through the town to get to Cowesett.

Presently, East Greenwich responds to fire and rescue calls, but under legislation approved by the City Council, so does Warwick. The prospect that four vehicles – two rescues and two engines – would respond to a call troubled John Stewart.

“What we need to do is to stop that lunacy,” he said. Stewart recanted when Armstrong said those arriving at the scene first call off the other responders if not needed.

Resident Thomas Casey Greene told of how East Greenwich rescue rushed him to Kent Hospital. He was in a coma by the time he arrived.

“I’m concerned if they [the rescue] had to come from Station 5 [Cowesett], I wouldn’t be here today,” he said.

While the administration projects no additional personnel or equipment costs with the station, Armand Lusi was concerned by what he called the “trickle down effect.” He said he could foresee the day when another truck or rescue would be needed and then added personnel. And, he asked, if the city can spare an engine company for Potowomut, wouldn’t it be cheaper to keep the East Greenwich contract and eliminate an engine company?

“We’re not going to get into a discussion of reducing firefighters,” the mayor said emphatically.

The issue of whether East Greenwich might relocate its Main Street station closer to Potowmut was also raised.

Avedisian said the East Greenwich Fire District put a deposit on a site but since the district has been consolidated with the town, “there’s been a lot of turmoil.”


Comments
4 comments on this item

"Avedisian speculated that the school department didn’t deliberately turn the building back to the city as a “tactical” move to prevent a charter school." What?! This might be the most damaging observation in a series of them when it comes to the Warwick public schools. This is taxpayer property!!! If this accusation is baseless, the superintendent needs to say so emphatically and demand a retraction from the mayor. But if, as I suspect, it is true, the superintendent should be fired. Today. And the Beacon needs to follow up on this.

John, the accusation is baseless. The mayor is redirecting and pointing the finger, as always, at the schools to take responsibility. The schools tried to rent the buliding out to be another educational facility including renting it to the School for the Blind and to the West Bay Collaborative (currently renting portions of Greene school). The price per square inch offered by these groups was very low and they wanted millions of upgrades done to use it, roof, fire code, etc. I was not feasible to do the repairs and rent it for such a small amount that it made sense to return it to the city. During the time it was closed, it was used for storage. When it was returned to the city, the city did a walk through and it was in acceptable condition. If it was unacceptable, they should have said so and everything would have been sent to the dump.

At the time it was returned to the city, there was no communication about use as a charter school that I remember. I remember that someone did receive a grant but the time limit expired on it. I would have been happy to rent it to anyone willing to pay the right price. There was talk of a charter school opening in Cranston, it didn't happen. There was talk of a charter school opening in Providence, it was approved but I have heard nothing else about it. There was no serious action towards a charter school in Warwick at the time.

As for firing the superintendent, the superintendent at the time has already left the schools and there is a new superintendent. There will be no call for a retraction, there will be no retraction... to me this is redirection and it tells me Elections are coming already. Get ready for more mis-information.

If you have questions about taxpayer money, I would ask what the Mayor is doing with the $30 Million more he is taking from Warwick Taxpayers annually over the last 4 years and will taxes go up again this year. The tax money is certainly NOT going to the schools. It is not going into the roads, bridges, or sewers. Where is it going?

Mr. Maloney-Fair enough. I look forward to the superintendent's vociferous response. As a newcomer, I guess my question is: Why is there a separation between The Schools and The City? Is each entity not pointing it's finger at the other? It appears to me (perhaps inaccurately) that both are a function of taxpayer money. At least that is my experience in other New England cities and towns. Warwick and, frankly, RI seems to embrace it's bizarre little Island of Pathology.

This is going to cost Warwick a lot more than $350,000 a year. Give Potowomut to East Greenwich. Better for the residents of Potowomut, East Greenwich and Warwick.

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