As the holiday season begins and children throughout Warwick make their wish lists, members of the Warwick City Council are looking to cross infrastructure projects throughout the city off of their …
As the holiday season begins and children throughout Warwick make their wish lists, members of the Warwick City Council are looking to cross infrastructure projects throughout the city off of their own lists.
Earlier this year, Mayor Frank Picozzi and City Council President Stephen McAllister decided to allocate each member of the council $200,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money to spend on projects in their wards.
According to McAllister, the funds need to be spent by the end of 2024, and the projects themselves need to be finished by the end of the following year.
He also gave credit to the Department of Public Works (DPW) for their work on bringing the City Council’s projects to reality.
“[They took] on these projects that were dear to the hearts of all the councilmembers in addition to what they were normally doing,” McAllister said.
Common Wish List Items
If the major projects that the council members are putting money towards are the gifts under the tree, the stocking stuffers are solar-powered speed limit signs.
The signs, first requested by Ward 9 Councilman Vincent Gebhart, have taken off in popularity among other members of the council, with six councilmembers mentioning them as potential additions to their districts should they have money to spend after their major projects are done.
Gebhart believes the idea became popular because of the signs’ cost-effectiveness and impact.
“Officer [Michael] Isherwood, who does a lot of enforcement in my area, I always talk to him, and he’ll say: ‘You know what the number one thing people say to me when I pull them over? ‘I had no idea how fast I was going,’’” Gebhart said. “And that’s really what it comes down to- being aware of it.”
Other councilmembers, many of whom have already had the signs installed in their wards, echoed Gebhart’s sentiment.
“Speed signs are worth their weight in gold,” Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur said. “They’re worth every penny.”
Additionally, the request that has proven too expensive has typically been building new playgrounds. Multiple councilmembers expressed that the cost of equipment had been prohibitive and much of the playgrounds that were funded were done using the ARPA funds to match potential grant funding that the city is looking for.
According to Ward 1 councilman William Foley, playgrounds were among the most popular requests for ARPA projects.
Foley is one of two councilmen who has already spent all $200,000 allotted to his ward. That money has gone towards new benches and playground equipment for Bishop Park, located on Washington Street in Pawtuxet, and revamping the fields at North Country Club and creating a walking path.
According to Foley, the city was able to save some money with the North Country Club project, which cost $119,900, by doing it in-house with the DPW.
The ARPA money, according to Foley, will not be enough to cover the complete cost of repairs at Bishop Park, but will be used to match grant funding, which Foley said he is currently looking for.
Foley echoed many other councilmembers in saying that while he would like to build an entirely new playground, the $200,000 allotted to him would not be enough for that.
“In today’s day and age, $200,000 sounds like a lot of money, but it really isn’t,” Foley said. “$200,000 doesn’t even touch [the cost of building a playground,] which is a bit of an eye opener.”
Due to those financial constraints, Foley let go of a few other projects, such as installing a play hut and nests for orioles at Salter Grove Memorial Park. According to him, making the area compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) drove the price up too high to be covered by the ARPA money.
Regardless, Foley is happy with the projects that he has been able to fund, saying that the process of making projects like these was a necessity after the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused the creation of ARPA funds.
“I love interacting with this community, and this facilitates that,” Foley said. “We came out of COVID, where we were all isolated, and this is an opportunity for the local government to reach out and interact on that grassroots level.”
Unlike his colleagues, Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix has yet to finalize any projects in his ward, with all $200,000 of his ARPA money not committed to anything yet.
Rix does have one specific goal, though- to make sure that Norwood, Lakewood and Pilgrim, the three communities in his ward, each receive at least $50,000 of the $200,000 promised to his ward.
“I want them to have the opportunity so there can be more parity across Ward 2,” Rix said. “I don’t want all the eggs in one basket.”
While Rix doesn’t expect any projects to be finalized before the end of the calendar year, he mentioned some that had been brought up frequently that he considered good ideas. Those include improvements at Belmont Park, the creation of a community garden, a sidewalk along Belmont Drive, a park at the end of Dryden Boulevard and solar-powered speed limit signs on Fairfax Drive, Easton Avenue and Partition Street.
“There are a lot of really exciting ideas, and this is a good problem to have, of too many deserving ideas for how we can engage real improvements around Norwood, Lakewood and Pilgrim,” Rix said.
Rix emphasized, though, he wants the community to make the decision as to what gets funded as much as possible, with regular workshops and community meetings to hear public feedback and potential ideas.
“That’s the largest reason why I have held off on committing a single dime of the ARPA funds,” Rix said. “They can’t be re-prioritized later.”
Rix’s next community meeting will be on Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. at the Norwood Boys and Girls Club.
Councilman Tim Howe has placed a lot of his funding towards one of the most traveled roads in his district- Sandy Lane.
In particular, $53,080 of Howe’s allotted funds will go to the installation of four elevated crosswalks at the Sandy Lane Apartments, the Cooper Building, Thayer Arena and Warwick Public Library. Howe is also planning to have solar-powered speed limit signs installed at those four locations, as well as crosswalk lights for pedestrians.
“That was something that was near and dear to me,” Howe said. “I go walking on Sandy Lane, and crossing that street can quite honestly be a challenge, and I’ve heard phone calls from residents saying the same thing.”
Howe said that the four locations along the road used for the project were the four most logical places to put them, due to the amount of people going to each location and drivers not focusing as much on people crossing the road.
Outside of Sandy Lane, a significant amount of Howe’s $200,000 is going towards Sand Pond, a pond located just off of Post Road near Route 37.
Sand Pond, according to Howe, is one of the cleanest in the region, and the funds would be used to improve access to the pond, stabilizing its access path.
According to Howe, the last time the area received city maintenance was about 50 years ago. He credited those living around Sand Pond for keeping the area maintained in the absence of that.
“The community has been very active in maintaining and beautifying the area, and they’re trying to get it updated,” Howe said.
Should there be any money left over, Howe said that he would like it to go towards putting barriers along the intersection of Pavilion and Evergreen Avenues, due to trucks driving down the one-way residential roads. Additionally, Howe said he would possibly look at additional locations for solar-powered speed limit signs.
One of Councilman James McElroy’s projects has already come to fruition- the resurfaced basketball court at Hoxsie Elementary School, which officially opened on Sept. 28.
According to McElroy, the court was a top priority for him to complete with the ARPA money, towards which he committed $71,092.50, and being able to see the completed court and hear messages of thanks from the students at the school was a gratifying experience.
“That’s the type of thing that makes the job worthwhile,” McElroy said.
Otherwise, McElroy is planning on having a gazebo installed at Conimicut Point Park. The gazebo, according to city documents, will take up an estimated 745 square feet and have a diameter of 30 feet. It will take up just over a quarter of his ARPA money, at $53,663.92.
McElroy was unavailable for comment about how he was planning on spending the remaining $75,243.58.
In Warwick Neck, Councilman Edgar Ladouceur has put a lot of his $200,000 towards safety improvements at schools in his ward.
Ladouceur has put funds towards installing a crosswalk at St. Kevin’s School, as well as a flashing crosswalk sign and solar-powered speed limit signs along Warwick Neck Elementary School, which he had previously called dangerous for students.
“That has been a dangerous area for years,” Ladouceur said. “Regardless of some people wanting to push back, saying it’s not that bad: well, it is that bad.”
Exactly half of Ladouceur’s money, though, is going towards DelGiudice Park, which could get new swings, additional benches, mulch, a new curb, and a resurfaced basketball court.
Similarly to Foley’s Bishop Park project, the $100,000 being put towards DelGiudice Park will be one part of funding the final project. For all of the new projects at the park to be done, Ladouceur is trying to win a federal $400,000 grant, which requires at least a 20% match from the city to get.
According to Ladouceur, the park had been neglected since Ward 5 does not qualify for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which provides grant funding for similar projects in more urban communities.
“My constituents haven’t had the benefit that other districts have had, so I’m trying to get something done for the youngsters in my district,” Ladouceur said.
Ladouceur said he would like to spend any remaining funds for benches in the city, and said that he was grateful to be able to fund projects.
“It was a good move to take some of that money and dedicate it to the people that live in our city, in the wards,” Ladouceur said. “I know mine are going to be pleased with the things that we’re doing, and there’s a lot more that I’d like to do.”
Ladouceur will find out if the city won the grant funding in February.
Councilwoman Donna Travis is spending much of her ARPA money on improvements to City Park- namely, revamping and potentially moving the city’s dog park and installing benches in the dugouts of the park’s softball fields.
Oakland Beach’s flagpole also received a fiberglass replacement costing just under $4,000, which Travis said she was excited to get done for the community.
“I have to take care of the area and make sure I spread [the ARPA money] out for all of the residents of Ward 6,” Travis said.
Most of the money allocated to Ward 6 has yet to be spent. However, Travis said that this is due to waiting to see how much revamping the dog park would cost.
“We need it to be handicap-accessible,” she said. “That’s the part that will cost money- maybe bringing it closer to the street, making a safe walkway, bringing it towards the trees, that’s when it starts adding up,” Travis said.
Should there be money left over, Travis said she would like to spend it on the entrance to City Park, as well as potentially adding a gazebo should there be enough for that.
“I want to make it more inviting,” Travis said. “I don’t think it’s very welcoming, but it’s a beautiful park.”
It was McAllister, along with Picozzi, who proposed the idea of splitting $1.8 million in ARPA money between each of the city’s nine wards.
He’s happy with the results thus far.
“It’s turning out great,” McAllister said. “It shows that we’re here, we’re listening, and we’re doing what we can to make sure our wards look as nice as possible.”
In his ward, McAllister has also financed repairs on the Apponaug Baseball Complex and the installation of area welcome signs and plans to use much of his remaining money for the installation of benches and picnic tables at Apponaug Village, Gorton Pond, Arnold’s Neck and Nausauket.
The majority of his $200,000 has gone towards installing a swing set at Arnold’s Neck Waterfront Park, as well as installing new material on the ground. Construction for that is set to start in the spring, and according to McAllister, will also make the park ADA compliant.
“Since it’s so close to the water, that drove up the price on that,” McAllister said. “There hadn’t been anything new in that park for a long, long time.”
The three welcome signs- for Nausauket, Gorton’s Pond and Arnold’s Neck- have already been installed.
With his remaining money- $58,568.26, not including the to-be-determined final cost of the picnic table and bench installations in the district- McAllister said that he will put solar-powered speed limit signs by Greenwood, Cedar Hill and Robertson elementary schools.
Being able to facilitate these projects was something that McAllister said was one of the better parts of his job, and he believes that his projects have helped make Ward 7 a bit nicer.
“These are projects that I think every councilmember would love to do every year, but we don’t have an unlimited budget and unlimited time,” McAllister said.
Councilman Anthony Sinapi made the largest expenditure toward any project, with $184,972 going towards Pontiac Park.
Sinapi said the money is aimed at improving park safety.
The Pontiac Park project hit a snag, however, due to uneven grading of the pour-in-place rubber surface that was used for the playground. Sinapi said that due to this, the park’s reopening was pushed back from this September, although he said it should be usable in a matter of days.
“As far as completion, the hydroseed can’t go in until the spring, but that’s just mostly aesthetics,” Sinapi said. “Everything else should be a matter of as soon as they get to it, which should be within the next couple of weeks.”
The remainder of Sinapi’s money- he has spent all $200,000 as well- is going towards what will be known as Padula Square, situated between Pontiac and West Pontiac Streets. The project will include the renaming of the area, as well as a monument to Domenic Padula, a former police officer.
According to Sinapi, he chose that project in order to make safety improvements, as the current area, essentially all pavement, has caused safety issues that local residents talked with him about.
“In the long run, we’re hoping to do something with that so that basically you can’t go flying up or down it, but at least for now, there’s going to be a memorial right in the middle, and there’ll be parking and there will be some foliage,” Sinapi said.
Sinapi described the Padula Square project as “in its infancy,” and said that being able to finance projects in the ward was one of his favorite things that he had done as a councilman.
“It’s just a nice feeling to be able to address even the little things right away as opposed to just maintenance, traffic signals, et cetera,” Sinapi said. “This feels nice.”
Vincent Gebhart, Ward 9 Councilman, set a council-wide trend with the idea of solar-powered speed monitors. He came up with the idea due to positive feedback about one on Narragansett Parkway and spending time in an area where they are more common.
“I work up in Boston, so they’re pretty popular up there, and people are constantly contacting me about slowing people down,” Gebhart said.
Gebhart said that he got the idea to bring them to Warwick and use them since they don’t require an officer to be out on the road enforcing speed limits and are less labor-intensive. The signs would also collect data on the speed and volume of traffic, according to Gebhart.
In his ward, the signs will be placed on Love Lane, Cowesett Road and Diamond Hill Road.
Throughout the rest of his ward, which encompasses the southernmost parts of the city, Gebhart is looking to repair a boat launch at Robert Avenue and make wide-scale upgrades to sports facilities at Sleepy Hollow Farms.
The boat launch, according to Gebhart, has been used by the community for a long time.
“People have used it for sailboats and small boats for many, many years,” Gebhart said. “Well, where that paved area runs down to the water, it needs to be repaired.”
Additionally, Gebhart’s repairs for Sleepy Hollow Farms call for a resurfacing of the farm’s courts, designating them specifically between tennis and pickleball.
“Those have been there for many, many years, and they’re pretty run down, but they’re pretty well used,” Gebhart said.
According to Gebhart, the new facility would create a place in the city for aspiring pickleball players that currently have no place to play the sport.
Since not every council member’s money has been committed yet, the city still has a website up for residents to make suggestions for ARPA projects, which can be found here.
While McAllister said that he wishes council members had the opportunity to do projects such as these annually, the projects themselves are built to last far beyond the tenures of the members of the City Council.
“These are all projects that will last, and won’t come with an annual expense attached to them,” McAllister said. “As long as we take care of everything, all of these things are going to last.”
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