A committee established to examine the reuse of the former Potowomut Elementary School has recommended that the property be re-purposed to include a fire station to serve the Potowomut and Bay Ridge neighborhoods, with space for a Community Police unit and community meeting room, and recreational playing fields. The committee has also recommended preserving the existing playground.
Mayor Scott Avedisian said yesterday he would ask City Council approval to release up to $2 million in bonds that were approved by voters in 2006 and specifically earmarked for construction of a fire station in Potowomut. He said that Diana Pearson, who chaired the reuse committee, would serve as Building Committee chairwoman.
Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla, who proposed the 2006 bond issue to build a station, said, “I thought it should have been done a lot sooner.” He said the city wouldn’t have to hire additional personnel or buy equipment.
Merolla believes the station can be operated at virtually no added cost to the city as an engine company now being doubled in an existing station could be relocated to Potowomut. In addition, he said the city could save on payment to East Greenwich and mutual aid rescue runs could generate as much as $450,000 annually.
In response to an e-mail, the mayor said:
“There will be no additional personnel hired. The Chief and the Firefighter’s Union were part of the overall decision-making process that moved the project forward. It is our intention to re-deploy existing personnel to cover the new station. The current amount budgeted for the agreement with the East Greenwich Fire District is $320,000 a year. It is my intent to keep that line item in the budget and pay off the bonds by that amount each year. So in six years or so, the line item would disappear and the bond would be paid off.”
Avedisian established the Potowomut School reuse committee by executive order last year. The committee, a cross section of area residents, city employees, elected officials and municipal board members, met regularly for several months. They discussed the feasibility of numerous options, and then prioritized them for Avedisian’s consideration, Pearson said.
The committee examined the need for public safety services to the neighborhood, which is separated from the rest of Warwick; a centralized meeting space, absent in the neighborhood since the school’s closure; indoor and outdoor recreational opportunities; and income-producing ideas, such as sale of the building or leasing of a portion of the property.
Construction of the fire station will provide closer fire and rescue services to residents and will ultimately allow the city to end its service contract with East Greenwich, Avedisian and Pearson said.
If possible, some of the existing elements of the school building will be preserved and incorporated into the fire station as a way to connect its future use with its decades-old ties to the community.
Avedisian said the committee has expressed hope that demolition, design plans and construction will begin as quickly as possible to provide the neighborhood with a similar type of community focal point that the school and playground once provided.
In addition to Pearson, the Potowomut School Reuse Committee consisted of: Jay Arnold and Lara D’Antuono; Ward 9 City Councilman Steve Merolla; Planning Board Chairman Phil Slocum; Rick Crenca, of the Planning Department; Joseph Blake, of the Department of Public Works; John Mulhearn, a Realtor; and Jackie Procopio, who has been active with the Potowomut Neighborhood Association for years.
Avedisian said he aims to have the council consider the request soon:
“I hope the Council approves, and get moving as quickly as possible.”