Lots of ideas for neighborhood projects

By JOHN HOWELL and NOAH BROWSER

City Council Speaker Steve McAllister was both surprised and delighted when, days after issuing an invitation for neighborhood projects, he received more than 50 proposals from across the city. The suggestions keep pouring in and McAllister expects more “in waves” as neighborhood associations come together and submit their wish lists.

McAllister chose to solicit proposals on the Internet in response to Mayor Frank Picozzi’s pledge to make $1.8 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds available for neighborhood projects. Picozzi said council members know their neighborhoods best and $200,000 would be allocated to each of the nine neighborhoods.

McAllister said the demands span the bet from reducing shrubbery to building trails and improving water access to playgrounds and lighting. He also received some paving proposals and these are projects that will not be retained.

“It’s going to go too fast,” McAllister said if neighborhood funding were to be used for costly street paving. “We want to spread it out as much as possible.”

In addition, he pointed out, the city is already allocating millions to paving.

On Tuesday, Picozzi said McAllister spoke to him about the response and he thinks council members would see better “the little needs” that may have been overlooked by the city. He said he would like to begin the project selection process “as soon as possible,” pointing out that many will require soliciting and awarding bids.

McAllister has a plan for that too. Starting this fall, he intends to have neighborhood projects as a “standing item” on the agenda of council meetings. Once board members identify a project that they believe should be funded, it would be placed on that month’s agenda for consideration along with one or more projects from other board members. McAllister said “it would be up to council members” to push for the projects they want. The intention is for the board to review and approve projects over several months rather than consolidating them into one meeting. He also sees it as an opportunity to bundle projects as a way to save time and money.

For example, if there are multiple requests for park benches, they could be grouped together, which could mean savings while doing one solicitation.

He also considers the suggested projects as inspirational ideas for other projects. For this reason, McAllister said the full list of projects will be posted on the website.

Already projects such as improvements to Warwick North Sprague Field have been proposed by several people. What McAllister hopes is to allow people to add comments to suggested projects to get a picture of community support and additional suggestions.

In a phone interview, Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur said, “I’m working on a long list of different projects. I’ve already met with the planning department to go over at least half a dozen different projects. Specific proposals include improvements to DelGiudice Park, park benches in various locations, and a new bus stop enclosure.

The scope of these ARPA funds is something new for Warwick. Ladouceur spoke enthusiastically, saying, “This is totally unprecedented. This has never been done since I have been on city council. This sort of thing happens at the General Assembly, but we’ve never had anything like it in the town of Warwick. I don’t know if anything like this has ever happened in the state.

The Conimicut Village Association got a jump by compiling a list of projects as well as providing cost projections. Association president Ginny Barham said on Tuesday that association members are studying the feasibility of the plans and will meet next month to review them. The list that was shared with Ward 4 Councilman James McElroy includes a large gazebo at Conimicut Park for groups and gatherings estimated to cost $61,000; six additional historic lampposts on West Shore Road at $54,000; $10,000 to $20,000 shoreline right-of-way improvements, compost toilet facilities like those at Rocky Point for Conimicut Point, and a $5,000 grant program for new storefront businesses in the village.

McAllister said he heard from friends at Gorton Pond who are looking for picnic tables on the pond beach as well as opening up the area by cutting shrubbery and improving access. He also heard Arnold Neck residents suggest a trail on the banks of Mary’s Creek. He said the Warwick Center for the Arts was looking for a variety of things, including landscape lighting and a screen to hide the central dumpster.

There is also a suggestion from Robert Nero to improve canoe and kayak access to the Pawtuxet River in Pontiac, as the existing launch site is far from the parking lot.

McAllister admits that the process of soliciting suggestions could lead to false expectations, as there are likely to be more requests than the funding can support. Nevertheless, he seeks an open process.

“It’s new for all of us,” he said.

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