Plans expand for Elmhurst School project in Portsmouth

Elmhurst School in Portsmouth Elmhurst School in Portsmouth

Elmhurst School in Portsmouth

PORTSMOUTH — For almost an hour Monday night the Portsmouth Town Council criticized some of the proposed work in an engineering and architectural study of Elmhurst School.
Several plans must be developed before the town can seek proposals and bids to demolish the school on Frank Coelho Drive. The school lies on a very steep slope, complicating its demolition, and also surrounds and supports the chapel that many residents want to see preserved from demolition.
In addition to the asbestos abatement and hazardous materials abatement plans already completed, next a topographical survey and a sloping and grading plan must be done. Together those will cost $32,900. And if the town wants to see what it would take — and cost — to preserve the chapel, an architectural study will be needed at a cost of $19,900.
While several councilors called some of the proposed work unnecessary at this stage, other councilors said that preliminary plans should never skimp on details.
“This is the kind of money that is well-spent,” Councilor James Seveney said.
Realtor Alan Shers told councilors that the outlined scope of work was “very reasonable” for a project as complex as demolishing this school. “It’s not just knocking down a building and filling in a hole,” he said.
Then he pointed to an area of the topographical survey plan that he thought should receive more work, as well as that the possible demolition of a large boat house near the school isn’t even considered in the plan.
The deteriorating boat house is built into the side of a cliff, right where the town and Aquidneck Land Trust envision building a waterfront park, if voters approve selling the conservation rights on the property to the nonprofit in exchange for about $1 million to help pay for the school demolition.
Though it failed four to three, Councilor Keith Hamilton tried to have the plan sent back to the contractor and revised to include demolition of the boat house. Councilors Michael Buddemeyer and Mr. Seveney voted in favor of revising the plan to include the boat house.
Richard Wimpress, chairman of the Elmhurst Planning Committee and also the Glen Manor Authority, urged councilors to move as quickly as possible on these plans and demolition of the school. Calling the school an “eyesore” he said it takes away from the lucrative business of the adjacent Glen Manor House.
Speaking to Councilor Judi Staven’s comment that the council still hasn’t decided that the school will be demolished, Mr. Wimpress said there is no other choice. The planning committee looked at all the options for the building and all agree it should come down, he said. “There’s no reasonable reuse for that building.”
After all the debate councilors held off on approving the additional preliminary plans so they could meet with the contractor about the proposed work.
Capital projects scrapped
The wish list of capital needs for the town was cut back quite a bit by councilors.
The highest-priority projects have already been approved — road paving, a new 1-ton truck for public works, roof repairs and drainage work at Glen Farm, and a new senior center roof. Next will be $10,000 worth of roof repairs to Town Hall.
At the suggestion of Councilor Keith Hamilton, here’s what has been scrapped as capital projects for this year:
• $250,000 to purchase land easements
• $50,000 for audio-visual equipment for town council chambers
• $45,000 for 2013 Ford Expedition for fire department
• $40,000 for new fire station study
• $25,000 for new police station study
By not funding these projects, Mr. Hamilton said, “that gets us two-thirds of the way to the possible bill for the replacement of the gearbox” in the town’s wind turbine.
Speaking of the turbine
Over the next few days a nationally recognized expert on wind turbines will be inspecting the gearbox problem, said Town Administrator John Klimm. The engineer’s report of his findings may be available by the next council meeting.
The town is also receiving a report from the owner and operator of the same turbine as the town’s. That person has had similar issues with a gearbox.
A request for information and qualifications for a private-sector partnership on the town’s turbine of erecting new turbines will close on Sept. 14. Town officials decided to seek ideas from the private sector after receiving several phone calls about such a partnership.
Town to create fire academy
Prospective firefighters will be trained for the job in the town’s own fire academy.
Expecting to have two vacancies in the fire department by January, Interim Fire Chief Michael Cranson suggested creating the fire academy so that candidates will be trained and ready to take the job right away. The town will pay trainees minimum wage to attend night classes at the fire station.
The town solicitor said there won’t be any legal issue if it is not made a requirement for candidates on the waiting list. After that any new firefighter candidates may be required to attend the town’s fire academy.
Councilors approved establishing the fire academy and thanked Chief Cranson for his innovative idea that will save the town time in preparing new firefighters and also overtime costs of having firefighters fill extra shifts until replacements are found.
Congrats, Louie
Councilors presented Louis Escobar with a proclamation of congratulations on having his farm named Rhode Island’s 2012 Outstanding Dairy Farm of the Year.
“I am very honored,” Mr. Escobar said at the meeting. “Thank you very much.”
Dolce takes new job
Tax assessor/collector David Dolce will be leaving the job on Sept. 14. After working for the town for 17 years he submits his resignation “with great regrets, but know that this is the right deicsion for me.”
Town Administrator John Klimm called Mr. Dolce a “valuable member” of the town and thanked him for his service. He said Mr. Dolce is taking a job in the private sector.
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