June 23, 2024

May News Briefs

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Mayor DaSilva – Councilman Lawson in Oldham Rehab Clash
Mayor Bob DaSilva and Ward 4 Councilman Rick Lawson both took to social media to air their differences on the former Oldham School Incubator Space Project.  In addition to social media, Lawson has continuously raised the issue of the abandoned school property at City Council meetings.  Oldham School on Bullocks Point Avenue has remained closed and unoccupied since 2013.  Former Interim Superintendent John DeGoes made the recommendation to close the school after being charged by the former state budget commission to trim the school budget by closing it because of declining enrollment.  “The RI Department of Education also does not favor spending between $2 million and $2.5 million on fire safety, security and the roof for the deteriorating building,” DeGoes said at that time.

The school department declared the property as surplus and last year turned it over to jurisdiction of the City.  Since then the City Council and City administration have been discussing potential plans for the spacious Riverside property.  At one point Mayor DaSilva toyed with the idea of selling the building to someone who could fund and operate its rehabilitation like the Hope & Main project in Warren, RI.  The City Council has preferred not to sell the building and pursue similar programming.  “Our administration prides itself on getting projects done for the residents of East Providence and working to leverage federal, state or private funds to get those projects done.  In July of 2022 our administration hired Melissa Spurr to help manage our ARPA projects. Shortly thereafter we started actively exploring options and looking at converting the old Oldham School on Bullocks Point Ave into an incubator space. The school has been deteriorating and abandoned since being shuttered in 2013,” said DaSilva.

While DaSilva favors seeking grand funding for the eventual project, Lawson wants to start by fixing the roof and windows with monies on hand from ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding.  “The City Council allocated $1 million for roof, doors and window replacement to address the envelope of the building.  Hopefully the administration does an assessment of any other needs, and we can then work on funding to get the building open sooner than later for community use while waiting for the incubator feasibility study,” said Lawson.       

DaSilva listed a chronological history of the project.  “I began conversations with former Ward 3 City Councilman Nate Cahoon and with School Superintendent Sandra Forand about the process of turning the property over to the city.  On December 13, 2022, Melissa Spurr presented to the East Providence School Committee our administration’s plans to transform the old Oldham School into an incubator space. The School Committee agreed to transfer the abandoned Oldham property to the city.  Since acquiring the property, the city has continually done its due diligence to ensure we get the best most cost-effective project built for our community,” continued DaSilva.  “We have explored the possibility of private capital investment through an RFQ (Request for Qualifications) from private developers. The RFQ called for the development of an incubator space and the retention of the school gym as a public community center space.”

The city applied for and was awarded a $200k U.S. Economic Development Administration grant to conduct a feasibility study on converting Oldham into a small business incubator space.  “We went out to RFP and selected a firm to conduct the feasibility study. A favorable study will position the city to be eligible for millions of EDA grant funds to build out and support an incubator space.

It has been previously reported that this old building, abandoned since 2013, is in need of multi millions of dollars of repairs and upgrades. Our administration is currently putting together a scope of work to go out to RFP for a new roof, windows and doors. This will give us an idea of what it would cost to simply button up the building.  Hopefully we’ll have a solid plan to build and create a viable and successful incubator space for our community to grow small businesses, recreate in a small gym and have other useful community uses,” added DaSilva.

Lawson maintains he is ready to work with the Mayor on Oldham but disagrees with aspects of the process. “I am very happy the entire council agreed that we are not selling the building. I will not sit back waiting for possible grant money when we have the funds now to move forward,” said Lawson in a post reply to the Mayor.  Lawson wants the approved splash pad to be built on this property and add a water line for an eventual community garden. “I think this would be the proactive way to get started,” added Lawson.  “Working together we should agree to have a plan in place before tying up additional ARPA funds. The ARPA funds have a strict timeline in place and we stand to lose millions of dollars if these funds are not under contract by end of year,” replied DaSilva.  At Reporter press time DaSilva and Lawson agreed to meet and discuss the Oldham plans in further detail.

Martin Middle School Renovations
Renovations to replace a major part of Martin Middle School continue, along with aspects of improvements to Riverside Middle and Waddington Elementary school.  Some of the exterior work at Martin has paused as workers uncovered some buried trash while digging.  It was reported to their superiors and the trash is being removed and inspected by an independent firm.  Martin was built upon a former farmland and somewhat of an unofficial landfill for some.  People were known to drop tires and trash on the site.  According to officials on the scene, it isn’t unusual to see buried trash on closed farmlands.  Initial test borings didn’t show similar materials and officials don’t see this as widespread.  “Appropriate agencies will evaluate the situation and recommend remediation steps,” said building committee officials.  Plenty of indoor work continues as the exterior excavations are paused.  “The relaxed laws of the past that allowed burning trash and tire disposals are no longer in place, but we must do our due diligence on this and any project,” said building committee co-chairs, Joel Monteiro and Manuel Vinhateiro.  “SAGE Environmental of Providence has been hired to handle the contaminated soil and make recommendations,” they said.  As of now there is no elongated delay expected on the overall project.  “of course, it’s a concern and is being immediately addressed,” said Vinhateiro. 

Mayor DaSilva announces Promotions and New Staff
Mayor Bob DaSilva has announced two new staff appointments to his administration. DaSilva has promoted Patricia Resende to Chief of Staff. In addition to her responsibilities as Director of Project Management and Communications, Resende has been serving as Acting Chief of Staff since December when Napoleon Gonsalves resigned. She has also been overseeing the Information Technology Department in the wake of the IT Director’s departure.

In her new role, Resende will focus on intergovernmental affairs and will place greater focus on special projects, overseeing multiple capital projects to ensure they are executed in a timely manner. Resende has been overseeing project management and communications for the City of East Providence since joining DaSilva’s administration in January 2019.  During her time with the city, Resende oversaw the implementation of the city’s budget portal, assisted in the roll out of regional vaccine clinic and test distribution processes, and launched the city’s new website, newsletter and public access show. Resende has also served as liaison to the city’s congressional, state and local delegation.

“Our city has been experiencing tremendous growth and we need someone to work with our local organizations and stakeholders and oversee the day-to- day progress of the many projects in our city including the creation of our community center, incubator space, police station renovations, park improvements and so much more,” Mayor Bob DaSilva said. “After seeing Patricia’s dedication and service to our community, I am confident she will work with our staff, community and other stakeholders to move our city forward.”

Resende earned her Project Management certificate from Bryant University, attended Northeastern University’s School of Journalism and is a graduate of the Community College of Rhode Island.  “East Providence has become my home away from home,” Resende said. “I am excited to continue the great work our team has begun under Mayor DaSilva’s leadership.”

“I applaud the hiring of Patricia Resende.  She has been a professional in all ways and represents a good bridge of communication between the City Council and Mayor,” said Council President Bob Rodericks.  “I look forward to working with her in this new capacity.”

Resende’s Replacement
Matthew Paddock has joined the DaSilva administration as its communications manager. Paddock, a former news reporter, is tasked with assisting the administration with various municipal projects, media relations and community affairs.  “We are thrilled to have Matt Paddock join our team,” Mayor Bob DaSilva said. “Paddock will play an integral role in communicating all of the great work and happenings around our city to our residents, collaborators and the media.”  Prior to joining DaSilva’s administration, Paddock was a news reporter and multimedia journalist with WPRI12. While at WPRI12 Paddock was a part of a team awarded the prestigious Edward R. Murrow award in 2023 for "Overall Excellence" for Small Market Television. Paddock was also nominated for the 47th Annual Boston-New England Emmy for evening newscast for coverage of a tornado touching down in Rhode Island in August of 2023. Before joining WPRI12, Matt wore a number of hats in the news industry in several markets in Upstate New York including Syracuse, Binghamton and Elmira where he was an anchor, producer, multimedia journalist, and videographer.  Paddock, an East Providence resident, earned a degree in Broadcasting and Mass Media communications at the State University of New York at Oswego.   

When he's not at City Hall, Paddock, an East Providence resident, enjoys trying local cuisines, all things New England sports and spending time with family and friends.  “I love this city and am grateful and proud to be a part of it,” Paddock said. “After six years in broadcast journalism, I look forward to this new challenge and am eager to bring 110-percent each and every day for both the mayor, but more importantly the people of East Providence.”

Governor Directs $600,000 & more to EP Bridge-Impacted Businesses
Governor Dan McKee and RI Commerce late last month announced a multi-faceted strategy to support small businesses most impacted by the Washington Bridge. The State will direct funds to create a targeted business marketing campaign and propose a strategy to the General Assembly to fund grants, special events, and other business assistance activities.  Governor McKee filed an amendment to his FY 2025 proposed budget that would provide $1.3 million in assistance to those small businesses most significantly impacted by the Washington Bridge reconstruction.  The budget amendment would redirect $1.3 million in State Fiscal Recovery Funds (SFRF) to assist the small businesses most significantly impacted by the reconstruction of the Washington Bridge in the form of direct grants or other business supports, to be determined by the local community.  Of those funds, $600,000 would be allocated directly to the City of East Providence and $400,000 to the City of Providence. The State will direct $300,000 to the Executive Office of Commerce as a contingency fund to potentially support any significantly impacted businesses outside of East Providence and Providence. Should the combined need in other communities not exceed $300,000, those funds may be redistributed to Providence and East Providence.

“For the past few months, I have been talking to businesses in and around East Providence, and I know that they are hurting,” said Governor Dan McKee. “This package of supports should not only provide some relief but also help spread the message that East Providence and the East Bay are open for businesses. We look forward to working with the General Assembly to support the businesses most significantly impacted by the bridge.”

The Governor’s $1.3 million proposal is in addition to a $400,000 marketing campaign funded through the State’s hotel tax. The marketing campaign is being created by two Rhode Island-based companies. Together, the direct funding and the marketing campaign aim to provide relief and drive business back into areas impacted by the bridge. The Administration marketing campaign attempts to encourage buying and dining locally in the areas most impacted by the Washington Bridge.  

RI Commerce will propose to the General Assembly a strategy to redirect some State Fiscal Recovery Funds (SFRF) to support businesses most impacted by the Washington Bridge, including offering $300,000 for direct grants to eligible small businesses and $800,000 for technical assistance, special events and placemaking activities for eligible businesses.

“The closure of the Washington Bridge has disrupted the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Rhode Islanders, and it has been particularly difficult for us in East Providence. Small businesses here have faced especially difficult challenges in the last several months, and many are struggling to stay afloat," said Senate Majority Whip Valarie J. Lawson (D – Dist. 14, East Providence). "Along with my colleagues in the East Bay delegation, we have been in continuous consultation with the Senate President and exploring all ways to assist affected businesses. I am grateful for the work that went into this assistance package. Entering into more debt through loans, even low-interest SBA loans is not a good option for many of these businesses, and I am particularly pleased that these proposals would provide state grants to assist impacted businesses," said Senator Lawson.

“These direct grants to businesses are exactly what many have asked for,” said City Council President Bob Rodericks.  “They didn’t need more debt through loans which many were denied anyway in a complicated process.”

FEMA going Door-to-Door in EP
“Yes, this is legitimate,” said Council President Rodericks.  “I have been asked by many residents about door to door solicitation efforts about FEMA and flooding.  FEMA is in East Providence offering assistance to those impacted by recent storms in our area.”    In an April press release FEMA said that “… a little over 30 days after President Joe Biden declared a major disaster for the state of Rhode Island for the severe storms, flooding and tornado winds that occurred September 10-13, 2023, $1,929,949 in federal assistance has been provided by FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to support the state’s recovery.”  FEMA has sent Disaster Survivor Assistance (DSA) teams to storm-affected neighborhoods in every designated county. These teams travel door-to-door, visiting homes, businesses, and nonprofit organizations to help residents apply, identify and address immediate and emerging needs, and make referrals to other local, state and voluntary agencies for additional support. DSA personnel have interacted with more than 2,600 residents and visited more than 9.000 households and 857 businesses to help survivors apply for assistance.  As of today, Rhode Island’s recovery assistance includes:

  • $1,635,459 in FEMA’s Individual and Households Program grants awarded to 364 eligible homeowners and renters to pay for uninsured storm-related losses, including:
  • $1,548,638 in FEMA housing grants to help pay for home repair, home replacement and rental assistance for temporary housing.
  • $86,821 in Other Needs Assistance grants to help pay for personal property replacement and other serious storm-related needs such as moving and storage fees, transportation, childcare, and medical and dental expenses.
  • The SBA has approved more than $294,500 for eight long-term, low-interest disaster loans for homeowners, renters, businesses of all sizes and nonprofit organizations to repair, rebuild or replace disaster-damaged physical property and cover economic injury.

The Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency and FEMA have staffed and operated two Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) in Providence County to provide one-on-one assistance to survivors. Over 200 survivors have visited these centers. Recovery specialists at the DRCs from the state, FEMA, and SBA provide information on available services, explain assistance programs, and help survivors complete or check the status of their applications for assistance. No appointment is necessary to visit – walk-ins are welcome. Centers are Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 6 30 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday- closed.  More information by calling 1-800-621-3362.  Phone lines operate from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, with language translation services available.

East Providence Free Workforce Program
“Jumpstart your career with the East Providence Workforce Program. Completely FREE for low-to-moderate income East Providence residents and workers. Coursework is geared towards improving career advancement by cultivating industry-specific, computer, and leadership skills,” was the invite in an April press release from the City and Roger Williams University.  The City Workforce Training Program offers 11 courses through Roger Williams University. The career-oriented programming offers training in Microsoft Office, social media marketing, accounting and bookkeeping, project management, and medical office specialist.

“We are proud to announce a special workforce development program for East Providence residents and persons whose employment is located in the city of East Providence.  This partnership with Roger Williams University will allow residents access to courses meant to elevate your workforce status and help you grow in the workplace,” said Mayor Bob DaSilva.

Courses will be free to eligible East Providence residents and workers. Participants must be low-to-moderate income (up to 100% AMI), and either live in East Providence or work in East Providence. Applicants will be vetted for income and residence/workplace requirements through the enrollment process.

The first round of classes starts May 7th, 2024, and will be held in East Providence at Breed Hall, next to the Senior Center (610 Waterman Ave, East Providence, RI 02914).  To enroll in a course, contact  ucadmissions@rwu.edu 401-254-3838 or contact City Hall, Mayor’s Office. Your registration will only be finalized once the form is submitted and approved by the City of East Providence.

Enrollment is currently open for: Microsoft Office Specialist, Accounting & Bookkeeping, Medical Office, Project Management, Social Media

The East Providence Workforce Program is offered by the City of East Providence in partnership with Roger Williams University. This program is sponsored by a $350,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration.

The Met Development Ready for Golf
As promised, the developers of the former private Metacomet Country Club & Golf are about ready to unveil its nine-hole golf course soon.  At an April 18, 2024 public meeting before the Waterfront Commission, described their latest plans which include the golf course called “The Met.”  In the developer’s plans and submissions part of the narrative states, “As you know, Metacomet Property LLC, an affiliate of Marshall Development (the “Applicant”), submitted an application to this commission in December 2023 in which the applicant proposed a dynamic mixed use development at the site of the former Metacomet Golf Course.  Amenities include a proposed promenade for pedestrian traffic, an outdoor amphitheater, and perhaps most significantly, the Applicant has spent a portion of 2023 restoring a portion of the property in furtherance of its plan to unveil and open a 9 hole public golf course in the summer of 2024. We are happy to report that the applicant still intends to open the golf course to the public this summer. Significant time and expense has been applied over the past twelve months in order to make this plan a reality,” said a Marshall development spokesperson.  “When Marshall was first soliciting input from the community, I was glad to meet with them to discuss ways to make the project more amenable to residents.  I specifically asked them to come back with a plan that could keep some golf and provide a buffer for most, if not all, of the Fisher Street neighborhood,” say Council President Bob Rodericks.  Before that point, golf was not in the original plans.  Seven original golf holes were kept along with the reconstruction of two new holes to keep a full nine-holes of golf.  “Although I’m not a golfer, I am glad that this course will be open to the public and a discounted fee given to East Providence residents.  It is a good compromise to the alternative and the land can never be developed for anything but open space, should the course fail to operate,” added Rodericks.

“We have developed a strategy to open and operate this popular, much sought after amenity (golf course) while the Commission continues to consider the balance of the Project.  Golf will be ready pending all required approvals,” said Marshall’s statement.  The Planning Board has received the golf course specifics and will report an advisory opinion to the Waterfront Commission by its May 9th meeting.  “The developer is mindful, however, of the fact that both they and the Commission have much work remaining relative to certain elements of the Project. After some delays, we finally held our first Design Review Committee hearing on the application the week of April 8th receiving substantive and productive feedback on the Project. Meanwhile, numerous impact studies are undergoing peer review and we await those results. Virtually all of these studies apply to proposed improvements to the property independent of the golf course,” said Marshall.  “The last few months have been a difficult time for residents of the City of East Providence as infrastructure failures have made everyday life more challenging in several ways. We are hopeful and optimistic that our proposal will provide both physical and emotional benefits and have a positive impact on our neighbors at a moment in time where it would be greatly appreciated,” writes the developers.

Of note is the fact that members of the ‘Keep Metacomet Green’ (KMG) movement continue to attend waterfront commission and City Council meetings to protest at each interval of the project.  Candy Seel, a leader of KMG attended the commission meeting on April 18 and objected to the plan to build a golf course maintenance facility some 30 feet away from some of the homes on Fisher Street.  KMG suggests the facility be put near where the old building was, closer to Lyon and Fort streets.  KMG continues to object to most aspects of the entire project.

Washington Bridge Gridlock Eases
The opening of the third lane on the westbound bypass of the Washington Bridge, during the first five days, has resulted in significant improvements to traffic movement in and around the City of East Providence and on route 195.  “Our East Providence Police and City of East Providence Highway Division are actively monitoring the traffic flow and after several day’s commute we will consult with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to reevaluate the current traffic control measures in place in and around East Providence,” said Mayor Bob DaSilva.  “Thank you to our residents and businesses for your continued patience and understanding while we as a community continue to navigate this situation.”

Governor Dan McKee and Rhode Island State Police Superintendent Colonel Darnell Weaver, and Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti promoted safe travel practices in advance of the change to three lanes on the westbound side of the Washington Bridge late last month.  Pointing to an increase in accidents on I-195 in the months immediately following the bridge failure, Governor McKee made clear his goal to reduce the number of accidents occurring on the Washington Bridge. “The Governor is encouraging travelers to follow the reduced speed limit of 40 miles an hour, avoid switching lanes, and most importantly, stay alert and off cell phones,” said a Governor’s Office press release.  “Our goal is to keep Rhode Islanders safe and get them where they need to go with the least amount of delay possible,” said Governor Dan McKee. “We know that in order to do both of those things successfully, we must all work together to reduce the number of accidents on the Washington Bridge, particularly those caused by distracted driving.  It’s tempting when you are sitting in traffic to take out that cell phone to check your texts. But it means you aren’t paying attention to your surroundings, and it means you are more likely to cause an accident that not only affects you, but the many hundreds of cars around you,” the Governor added.  In addition to increased safety signage on the bridge and PSA messaging, RISP has an increased presence on the bridge to help address distracted driving and prevent accidents.

The addition of a third lane on the westbound side of the Washington Bridge should shorten the time it takes to cross the bridge and ease some of the congestion in the surrounding towns. It may also reduce the number of accidents by eliminating some of the choke points where drivers have had to merge from three to two lanes, according to the RIDOT.

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