Solar Electricity: A Good Deal for North Kingstown

Question 2 on the November 5 ballot asks voters if the Town of North Kingstown should lease land to a developer for a public/private partnership for solar electricity generation. This is in line with the town’s goals of reducing electricity costs, generating income from idle properties, and promoting renewable energy.

The project, developed through the town’s Renewable Energy Committee (REC), will produce enough energy to cover the electricity consumption of all town government operations. The solar energy developer will cover the costs of equipment, installation and maintenance, will lease the land under the panels from the town and will pay property tax. This will be done by developing two underutilized town parcels, one of which is a closed landfill, the other mostly cleared land surrounding one of the town’s wellheads. Neither site has significant forest or other
important vegetation.

Former REC and past Town Council member Kevin Maloney, talking about the outcome of the REC study, said “I am very pleased with the results. These are the best two town sites and a highly endorsed developer. Unlike the Saunderstown Road issues, both areas are sparsely vegetated so there should be minimal tree removal and in sparsely populated areas where hopefully no neighborhoods should be affected. Both sites are also very close to substations and the power grid.”

The ballot question asks voters for permission to enter into a 25-year lease, which roughly matches the 25- to 30-year life expectancy of solar installations. Under the State’s Remote Net Metering program, the town will be credited for the electricity produced and will share the savings with the developer.

Question 2 will help reduce the Town’s electricity costs and produce income from idle property while providing clean, renewable energy for many years.

Please vote YES on Question 2.

See more about the solar leases here.

The Plan

Over the course of several months, DBVW Architects studied existing conditions, determined space needs, worked on concepts and developed a proposed budget. The plan includes:

  • The complete renovation of historic Town Hall, including updating windows, new electrical and heating systems, restoration of historic hardware, minor structural improvements;
  • Restoration of the Town Council chambers on the second floor;
  • A two-story brick addition to accommodate all town departments;
  • Site-work and parking.

DBVW presented their plan and feasibility report to the public and Town Council on July 9, 2018. Video of the presentation (starts at 03:14) and the accompanying PowerPoint presentation of the feasibility study are available on the Town’s website.

The plan in place is detailed enough to move forward, with cost estimates provided by Keough Construction, but there will be opportunities as the project progresses to accommodate public comment and suggestions.

Who is Charley Baker?

Perhaps you’ve stopped and taken note of our fair town’s Civil War Statue as you’re strolling up the sidewalk into the town hall on Boston Neck Road. Certainly if you have a young child you must have fielded questions on the details of this noble monument to our nation’s most difficult hour. In this week’s column we are going to take a closer look at the story behind this stoic gentleman perched out there on the front lawn and the younger innocent lad for whom this monument was, in part, dedicated to; Charles C. Baker.

Charley Baker, the first North Kingstown war casualty

Charley Baker was born in the early 1840’s to Captain and Mrs. David S. Baker of Pleasant Street in Wickford. He was the third of seven children and his father was a well-respected packet master (ship’s captain) of the packet boats that plied the waters of Narragansett Bay on a daily run between Wickford and Providence. The Baker home was a large gambrel-roofed house that sat right on the corner of Pleasant and Friend Streets. It is still there to this day and can be seen in the accompanying photograph. 

Charley was educated in the local schools and like most young men of his age, he heeded the call of his Country and joined the “Grand Army of the Republic” to fight the good fight to save the Union. At the end of the summer of 1861 Charley, son of a packet master from Wickford, along with many other local lads, including George T. Cranston, son of a farmer from Swamptown, climbed upon a train at the Wickford Junction station as a part of the Rhode Island Regiment, and headed off on the long journey to Camp Sprague just outside of Washington, D.C. Charley was a part of Company H, while George belong to Company E.

Apart from their obvious stations in life, there was little difference between them. Neither had an inkling of what lay ahead for them. The big difference between the two was that George, some four years later, returned alive to his family. Charley, died in his first battle, at New Berne, only a short while after climbing on board that local train. He was the first local boy to die in the War to save the Republic. As you can see by his last photo, a boy is what he truly was. His family and his community mourned their loss.

As a by-product of that mourning process, the local chapter of the GAR named its Post after Charley. The C.C. Baker Post was a support and fraternal group for returning veterans; think of it as the 1860’s version of the American Legion or the VFW. Eventually George T. would become it’s leader; I expect he often thought of his comrade Charley and that fateful day they boarded the train together and headed off to their separate fates. As the 1800s drew to a close, the membership of the Post dwindled, as veteran after veteran died and was buried with honor by his comrades. As the 20th century began, there were only a handful of remaining members; all “long in the tooth” they, like countless of other Posts across our nation, began to think of a way to close things out; to provide a permanent and appropriate way for future generations to always remember the ultimate sacrifice that good folks such as Charley had made for their nation. They emptied their Post’s coffers for the final time and made their selection. Many of these groups made the same choice that the C.C. Baker Post made, there are countless numbers of these “made-to-order” statues across America.

North Kingstown’s Memorial, as can be seen by the accompanying colorized postcard, was originally placed across the street from its present location (the two tenement houses that still exist on Updike Ave. can be seen in the background). That spot, in front of the Wickford Station, was appropriate for obvious reasons. When the station building was demolished in the 1930’s the statue was moved across the road, albeit in a less elaborate form, to its present spot in front of the town hall. There it quietly sits, still performing the function that those old soldiers envisioned it doing; reminding us all of what was required to insure our nations greatness, enormous sacrifices by boys who were barely men, boys like Charley Baker.

Reprinted with permission by Swamptown Enterprises G. Timothy Cranston

Who is DBVW?

Wondering about the team behind the design for restoring and expanding the historic 1888 Town Hall?  The award-winning consultants hired by the Town of North Kingstown to conduct the Town Hall feasibility study, DBVW Architects (DBVW), have a long history of working with communities on historic structures, including municipal buildings.

During their twenty-five years in business, their list of awards, many for historic preservation, has continued to grow.  Among the entities that have recognized DBVW with awards are:  Preserve Rhode Island, Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission (RIHPHC), Providence Preservation Society, GrowSmart Rhode Island, American Institute of Architects Rhode Island, Massachusetts Historical Commission, Preservation Massachusetts, and Newport Restoration Foundation.

The DBVW team, showing off their work in another historic structure.

DBVW’s expertise and professionalism were hailed by Town Manager Ralph Mollis during the July 9, 2018, Town Council meeting, where he stated:

“This process began back in January [2018] when we interviewed various firms for this job. We had a lot of good firms put in proposals but, I have to say, that it’s obvious from the process and over these past months of working with them that we definitely made the right choice for this particular process.”

In the presentation that followed, Michael Viveiros, the ‘V’ in DBVW, explained how their prime recommendation was developed, through a multi-step process that included: evaluating existing conditions, determining needs (space requirements), preparing concepts, development of a budget and cost estimates for the proposed work.

An in-depth discussion between DBVW and the Town Council was held on the budget and cost estimates for the prime recommendation. DBVW provided detailed information regarding projected costs, including escalation and contingencies.

DBVW is no stranger to developing appropriate design solutions for projects involving the renovation and preservation of historic structures, combining them with new construction elements. When Plymouth MA, “America’s Home Town”, sought to use an 1820 structure as the centerpiece of a state-of-the-art town hall, DBVW was hired to come up with the plan and provide oversight of the project.  Upon completion of the project, the Plymouth Town Manager offered this resounding endorsement:

“…I could not be more pleased with the creativity, effectiveness, and thoughtful design and oversight by the firm…They not only respected the historic nature of this Town, the also designed a facility that is a focal point of our downtown area.”

North Kingstown is at a crossroads. It can continue to occupy temporary modular buildings which will require additional funding, or create a state-of-the-art, modern facility utilizing our iconic 1888 Town Hall as a working centerpiece. Not only is it a building that honors our town’s rich history but we already own it, too.

The Petersons’ 60th

This past week, Carl and Odessa Peterson came back to North Kingstown Town Hall to celebrate the occasion of their 60th anniversary of being married inside, back in 1959.

Sixty years later, still good.

Apparently it was a spur-of-the-moment thing, partly spurred by driving past town hall. They had to ask around inside to find someone to be a witness.

Good to have a sign in case someone misses which is the front of the building. Watch your head on the AC.

They also stopped to check out the temporary town offices. Wonder if they would have stopped for a building that needs a label so you know which is the main entrance?

Read more about the Petersons here.

The North Kingstown Town Hall – What Was and What Could Be

The View From Swamptown, G. Timothy Cranston, October 6, 2016

Well there you have it! After 128 years of service to our community, the North Kingstown Town Hall is closed up, shut down, cast aside, or ….maybe not. As you can imagine, as I roam around our fair town this is one of the topics that folks have an interest in talking to me about. Of course it’s not the only pressing topic on the minds of our citizens, that’s for sure. Besides, “What do you think about the Town Hall?” I’ve also heard, “What do you think about the old Library building on Brown Street?”, “What’s going to happen to downtown Wickford?”, and “What’s it going to take to get things going on Post Rd?” Not to mention, “What’s going on with the Olde Town House?” and “What’s the story with all these different new developments in Town?”, and of course, “What’s the story with all these political people; what do you think of all of them?”

Boy that’s a lot of questions; but you know what, I’m a Swamp Yankee and man I got a whole lot of opinions! You see while the Good Lord may have short changed me a bit on dashing good looks and athletic prowess, and old Lady Luck sure don’t often look my way; he made up for it all with an extra helping of opinions, a good bit of sarcasm, and an ability to turn a phrase or two. So, as we move through this crazy political season, I’m going to share with you the history behind all these various “What the hecks” and “What do you thinks” and then, ….like a good Swamp Yankee always does; well, hell I’m just going to tell you what I think. Lets start with the Town Hall.

At a special Town Meeting held in August of 1887, the citizenry of North Kingstown approved an appropriation of $20,000 for the construction of a Town Hall, to replace the circa 1807 Town Meeting House which was at that time felt to be inadequate and out of date for needs of the growing community. Mill owners Walter Rodman and William Gregory, the latter of whom would one day become governor, along with prominent Quidnessett farmer George Albert Spink, were appointed as a committee to carry out this action. Their first acts were to hire architect Edgar B. Peck of Providence to design the building, and to purchase the old “Circus Ground Lot” from Joseph Reynolds as the building site. This lot on Hamilton Avenue (now known as Boston Neck Road) located adjacent to the Wickford Rail Depot, had been utilized for many years by traveling circus troops as a place to set up their shows each season. The building committee later hired the R. A. Woodbury Co of Pawtucket to do the masonry work, Sherman Brothers Builders of North Kingstown to do the rough and finish carpentry, John Maglone also of North Kingstown to do landscaping and site work, and E. W. Lovell of East Greenwich to do the plumbing. The building when completed in late 1888 was described as “an adaptation of the Romanesque style with an imposing as well as substantial appearance”. It features a “gabled frontispiece over the main entrance, and achieves its obvious visual interest through a variety of textures of patterned brick and bands of rough-hewn stonework”. Upon completion of project, Gregory, Rodman, and Spink, coming in slightly under budget, returned $211.33 of the original
$20,000 appropriation to the Town coffers.

The original layout of the building was as follows. The basement level was occupied by three 4’ X 8’ jail cells, with associated space for the Town Sergeant, a pump and furnace room with the pump being utilized to fill the large oaken tank in the attic which was utilized to run the building’s sanitary plumbing, storage space, The Town’s official weights and measures certification equipment, and an office for the building janitor. The ground floor featured a 10 foot wide corridor at the full length of the center of the building, with the Town Clerk’s office on the right hand side; immediately behind that was the records and fire-proof vault room and behind that was the staircase leading to the basement and the second floor. On the left side of the first floor was the Probate and Council Room with accommodations for 100 people along with a private consulting chamber. Behind that was a 10’ X 15’ room designated as a shared space for the School Committee and Town Treasurer. The upper floor of the building was completely occupied by a spacious 41’ X 42’ Town Council meeting room. The western end of the room was built as a raised platform for the Town Clerk and Town Moderator to officiate from. It had seating for 250 citizens as well as assembly chairs for the Town Council members. The room also featured two ventilators in the ceiling made of ash for ventilation during summer time meetings and heated debates. The building throughout was finished off in polished ash wood trim, with soapstone walls below an ash chair rail. The floors were all made from polished white cedar and the windows were amply large and featured beautiful stained cathedral glass borders.

The building opened to rave reviews in January of 1889 and the newspapers of the day remarked that “our citizens can now point with pride to their Town Hall and compare it with the municipal edifices of many cities without any fear of its suffering by the comparison.” This fact held true for the next 31 years until the early morning hours of December 11, 1920. On that day local resident Leighton Willis was walking to the Wickford Depot to catch the very first train out of the village when he discovered that there was a massive fire raging in the building. The Town’s volunteer fire department sprang into action, utilizing the recently purchased motorized LaFrance fire pumper, and began fighting the flames. The LeFrance was placed near the Hamilton Bridge at Wickford Cove and 2000 feet of hose rolled out to pump salt water on to the flames. The main Hallway was fully engulfed along with ceiling above. After a few hours the flames were extinguished, but damage to the building was extensive.

Luckily the town’s records, dating back to the 1600’s and already damaged by an 1870 blaze at a Wickford Bank in which they were then stored, were safely ensconced in their fireproof vault. The beautiful North Kingstown Town Hall however was not so lucky. The bright and cheery white cedar floors were gone, the extensive polished ash trim and decorative soapstone walls were destroyed by the fire, which had originated in a small electrical utility closet off of the main corridor, and all of the well appointed furnishings were either burned or ruined by the saltwater utilized to put out the fire. To add insult to injury, the Town Hall itself was grossly under insured. Only $14,500 was available to rebuild and refurnish the structure and no more funds beyond that were allocated to do the job.

While the Town Hall interior was being rebuilt, the Town Council and Probate Court met in the Wickford Fire Barn on West Main Street and the Town Offices were temporarily relocated to the second floor of the Brown Street North Kingstown Free Library as well as the
home’s of some of the Town’s officials. When Town workers moved back into the Town Hall in late 1921, it was to a decidedly less grand building. The North Kingstown Town Hall would never be the same, and three decades later it was further uglified by a one-story flat-roofed wrap around brick addition. The final nail in the grand old building’s coffin was delivered in the 1970’s when an ill-advised “modernization” was undertaken complete with drop ceilings, supposedly to save in heating costs, and further interior partitioning of the once grand second floor meeting room.

If you know where to look in this fine old municipal building you can see hints of what it once was. The cathedral glass borders on the windows are still in evidence in some rooms, and the ancient ashwood ventilators, constructed locally by the Sherman Brothers, have been revealed again in the hallway upstairs. But I’ve got to say, I expect the spirits of Governor William Gregory, textile magnate Walter Rodman, and well-heeled farmer George Spink are still not pleased by what stands on the old Circus Grounds today and they certainly aren’t pleased with what has transpired now. We shouldn’t be either.

This article first appeared in the NE Independent. Reprinted here courtesy Swamptown Enterprises.