Bond Vote is a Crucial Piece of NK’s Future
The Independent published the following letter in its September 14, 2023 issue. You may read it below or on The Independent's website.
North Kingstown residents will vote in November on proposals to replace an antiquated middle school and police/fire station, and to build an indoor recreation center.
As a public official who has toured both of the properties that have “aged out,” I view those as essential projects. Both are well past their sell-by dates, and more importantly, can no longer be patched up and made acceptable. The fire station doesn’t accommodate current firefighting vehicles either for space or weight, the police station’s jail cells look like something out of a Dickens novel, both parts of the current police/fire station building leak and grow mold from rainstorms, and police and fire personnel are forced to use closets as offices.
The Wickford Middle School walls and floors are cracking, the handicapped access elevator is located in a closet, there is asbestos throughout the building, and the facilities — from the lockers that are too small to fit a backpack or coat, to the science “lab” that is far from current educational standards — are inadequate to provide a modern education. The heating ductwork is old and expensive to maintain, and the building lacks air conditioning. The school department has worked hard to keep the building running, but it desperately needs replacing after some 90 years.
An indoor recreation center would also be an important resource for the town. We have a full range of citizens, from our youth to our seniors, who lack a place to play basketball, pickleball, walk a track, etc. once the weather turns cold. And we have current Recreation Department programs which are at risk and/or cannot be increased. I believe we need an indoor pool too, and have been a strong advocate for one despite obstacles like a perceived shortage of lifeguards. For decades town residents have decried the lack of indoor recreational facilities, and the timing has never been “right” to build them.
We are a successful, growing town, and without endangering our overall financial picture can afford to take on the bond obligations these facilities will require. Moreover, our history is marked with missed opportunities — for example failure to approve a combined town hall and school department in the former Wickford Elementary School; failure to pass a bond for a consolidated town hall in the Boston Neck property. As a result, we deal with fragmented and inadequate spaces, and then complain about them.
These bond issues would be expensive, but the needs will not go away and the prices will only increase over time. At this critical juncture, the state will reimburse over half the cost of the school project — a unique opportunity for us to lessen the burden on our taxpayers.
We should get answers to our questions about grade levels to be included in the middle school, locations, etc., and vote based on what is possible and practical. As voters, we have a chance to make a positive decision about our town and its future. We would, I hope, invest in our homes when necessary to keep them current and safe. We should do the same with our public buildings.
Larry Mandel is a North Kingstown Town Council.member.
This Letter to the Editor appeared in The Independent and may be viewed here.