Potowomut School has had many visitors in its history, but few as unusually clad as those who started working there last week. They wore white suits and facemasks as they removed asbestos ceiling tile, flooring and pipe insulation in preparation for the building’s demotion over the next month.
By this time next year, Fire Chief Edmund Armstrong expects a new fire station will be standing on the site. In addition to housing an engine company and possibly a rescue, the station will have a community meeting room – something lacking in Potowomut since the elementary school closed – and an office for a community police officer.
After delays over the demolition contract because it did not take into account asbestos abatement, the city has pushed ahead with the plan to provide Potowomut with a fire station and end its agreement with East Greenwich to provide fire coverage to the neighborhood. East Greenwich is paid about $350,000 annually for the service. But while East Greenwich responds to emergency and fire calls, so too do Warwick firefighters from the station on Cowesett Road.
With the closing of the school because of declining enrollment across the city – Potowomut students are now bused to Cedar Hill in Cowesett – Mayor Scott Avedisian named a commission to study possible uses for the property. After several meetings where uses of the building were considered, the commission recommended the fire station.
A station is not a new proposal.
It gained citywide approval in 2006, when voters endorsed a $2 million bond for its construction. However, concerned about the level of the city’s debt, Avedisian chose to put the fire station and other approved capital improvement projects on hold indefinitely.
Now the station is being viewed as a “no added cost” to the city. The savings generated by ending the East Greenwich contract is seen as more than enough for interest and principal on the bond issue. Armstrong does not anticipate any added personnel or equipment expenses. One of the two engine companies housed at the station next to Aldrich Junior High School would be relocated to Potowomut.
On Sept. 20, the city awarded a $136,600 contract to AA Asbestos Abatement of Johnston to conduct the asbestos abatement and demolition of the school. The company is removing equipment and outdated textbooks and other materials left by the school department. What the department left when it turned the building over to the city has been a bone of contention with the mayor. He called on schools to clean it up and, at one point, suggested city crews take on the task and bill the schools. As it has turned out, AA Asbestos Abatement is going to do the job with the $3,000 cost being passed on to the school department.
Earlier this month, the City Council awarded Saccoccio and Associates of Cranston a $153,973 contract to design the station.
“They’ll be able to fast track it,” Avedisian said last week of the architectural firm that has designed many municipal buildings, including fire and police stations.
Armstrong said he would meet with Saccoccio this week and that he hopes to soon have plans and specifications, which, after administrative approval, will go out for bid. In addition to bids for construction, Armstrong said he expects firefighters to apply for positions at the new station in June. By contract, union members have a right to request which station they are assigned to.
As for a rescue at the new station, Armstrong said the department would be reviewing the location of all department apparatus. The question is whether the Cowesett rescue would remain where it is or be relocated to Potowomut.
Whether the rescue remains in Cowesett or not, all Warwick firefighters across the city are trained EMTs and an engine company could respond to emergency calls.