For years now our town has been of many voices on the subject of the future of Old Town Hall. Some cherish it as a historical icon. Others share concerns over its deteriorating condition, lack of compliance with current standards, and landlocked location in terms of the requirement for off-street parking for future municipal use. Still others note the rapid, relatively inexpensive renovations we made to permit the current Municipal Office Building to be the efficient, inclusive headquarters it’s become.
Now that last November’s bond referendum has identified as much as Five Million Dollars which could be used to fix town infrastructure, all the competing voices have become more urgent. It seems to me, though, that the real possibility of making an investment of this size in North Kingstown’s future makes for a real requirement that we choose wisely when allocating that money. It seems clear to me that even if it were magically made pristine and ADA Compliant at no cost, the Old Town Hall is just too small to ever be considered as a New Town Hall. For reinforcement of that fact you have only to poll Town Workers and their customers who now happily use 100 Fairway Drive as an all-inclusive center for municipal government.
Then, too, we have many mouths to feed with this potential expenditure of $5 Million. Our town has a vibrant community spirit that manifests itself in an array of volunteer and service organizations. Yet we have precious little public meeting space to offer them. I believe that prioritizing the lower floor of Town Hall, only, could result in an inviting community center similar to the Guild Hall that South Kingstown created. We should also look to the Old Meeting House. If we have really chosen to preserve this artifact of town history should we not make it presentable and also make it available for public use? If so, that will take a couple bucks. We cling to the hope that the old Wickford Elementary School will become the centerpiece of a condo community with retail amenities. Since it seems that development will take a few more years, are there not stabilization projects there which merit financial attention. I’m told the Municipal side of NK Government owns over 100 separate buildings. Might some of them have pressing maintenance needs, also?
In short, I caution against putting all our financial eggs in one basket. We can open the Old Town Hall again for limited community use. We can add needed space to the Municipal Office Building so that Town Council and Court chambers will become adequate. We can do more than just paint the outside of the Old Meeting House. Folks, I persist in the belief that we can do all that within the allotted budget. Or, we can blindly focus all our efforts on the Old Town Hall, only to find that $5 Million is not enough to re-open it as a government facility, knowing all the while it is way too small to be effective in that role.