Year in Review: 2019, the last of the decade, in East Providence
Nineteen of some of the most noteworthy stories from the city
EAST PROVIDENCE — In 2019, among the many stories of note East Providence began to settle into its new form of governance while our elected officials once again took some consequential …
Year in Review: 2019, the last of the decade, in East Providence
Nineteen of some of the most noteworthy stories from the city
EAST PROVIDENCE — In 2019, among the many stories of note East Providence began to settle into its new form of governance while our elected officials once again took some consequential decisions that affect the daily lives of residents.
The most significant development, of course, was start of construction on the new East Providence High School, which voters approved in November of the previous year and groundbreaking took place in June of 19. Also of interest, the baton was passed at the top of the city’s two public safety entities as both the police and fire departments by the end of the year were led by new chiefs.
So, as we end the decade, in no particular order, here are 19 of the top stories covered in The Post during 2019.
Hundreds filled the Elmasian Auditorium in East Providence High School Tuesday evening, Jan. 8, to witness history as Roberto L. “Bob” DaSilva formally became the city’s first elected mayor during inauguration ceremonies for all those chosen to serve by voters in November 2018. “In many ways, this past election was about change,” Mayor DaSilva said. “We enter 2019 with a new form of government, and I am honored to serve as your first elected mayor. The people have elected a very knowledgeable and experienced City Council and School Committee. Working together, we can overcome any challenge. Together, we can accomplish every goal we set for our city. We are here with a mandate by the people of East Providence to get our city back on track.” Incumbents Robert Britto and Anna M. Sousa along with newly electeds Nathan W. Cahoon, Ricardo D. Mourato and Robert P. Rodericks took their council seats. Incumbent School Committee members Charles S. Tsonos, Anthony J. Ferreira, Jessica Beauchaine and Joel Monteiro were joined by the lone newcomer elected to the board, Karen Jean Oliveira.
A couple of infrastructure pieces long sought after by E.P.’s elected representatives and administrators came to fruition in 2019.
As part of an additional $54.5 million in federal funding the state will receive for infrastructure improvements, a plan to fast-track construction of a new span to replace the Henderson Bridge connecting East Providence and the East Side of Providence was announced by officials at a press conference in late February.
The first phase of construction will take the bridge down to one lane in each direction. It will also include 2,500 feet of separated bike/pedestrian path infrastructure. The smaller footprint will require less maintenance and will free up almost 33 acres for potential development and recreational use. It is expected to start in 2020, instead of a prior anticipated 2025 date, and create about 800 jobs. The state will be asked to match 20 percent of the project cost. The price tag for the new bridge is estimated to be $70 million.
RIDOT also announced a plan to remove the Gano Street exit in Providence, which affords motorists access to that city’s East Side off 195-West, and replace it with one in city at Waterfront Drive. The plan received a boost late in the year when RIDOT received a $25 million allocation from the federal BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) Grant Program. The plan is scheduled to include an additional lane of travel up to five from the current four on each side of the refurbished bridge.
East Providence Police Chief Christopher Parella announced his retirement in February. Chief Parella left after serving four years and eight months as the commander of the EPPD. He was an East Providence Police Officer for just over 28 years, sworn into duty in November of 1990. He held every rank available, except corporal, and notably as well spent the last sixth months of 2018 serving the dual role of chief and acting city manager. Oscar Elmasian retired as chief of the East Providence Fire Department in September. Mr. Elmasian, 61, spent six years in the position upon his appointment to the post by City Manager at the time Peter Graczykowski in September of 2013. Mr. Elmasian served nearly a year in the role on an interim basis after the retirement of then-chief Joseph Klucznik in December of 2012 while the city was being run by the state-appointed Budget Commission.
William Nebus was formally sworn in as the new chief of the East Providence Police Department in late March, by Mayor Bob DaSilva during a women’s history month event taking place at City Hall. Chief Nebus had been serving in the position on an interim basis for the past month since Chris Parella resigned from the post. Mr. Nebus previously held the Deputy Chief spot and the rank of Major.
In November, Glenn Quick was chosen as the new chief of the East Providence Fire Department, replacing retired Oscar Elmasian in the position. Chief Quick, who has been in the post on an interim basis for some 10 weeks, was appointed by the mayor following the recommendation by a panel of fire officials upon interviewing candidates. He was formally sworn in during a December ceremony.
With little fanfare, the five-year period of continued state oversight of East Providence’s finances came to a close in September. The state took over operations of the city in late 2011, putting into place a Budget Commission, which sat for the better part of the next two years before dissolving in September 2013.
After, Paul Luba was appointed as Municipal Finance Advisor to coordinate between the city and state during the remaining years of oversight. As 2019 ended, Mr. Luba’s role was gradually being reduced leading to eventual departure.
Plastic bag ban
The City Council in May gave second and final approval to an amended ordinance, which phases out the availability of single-use plastic bags by retailers to customers most commonly affiliated with supermarkets, convenience stores and drug stores. The ban actually took effect in November.
East Providence became the 12th out of Rhode Island’s 39 municipalities to take up the ban.
The revised ordinance, sponsored by Ward 2 Councilor Anna Sousa, appears in Chapter 7 of the City Charter, under the banner “Health and Sanitation,” which would require businesses to eliminate light plastic bags within six months of the final approval date. The key revised phrase in the ordinance would read: “Other than reusable carryout bags as provided in this section, no retail sales establishment shall make available any plastic carryout bags (either complementary or for a fee).”
Teacher of the year
The administration and the School Committee held their annual district teaching staff awards ceremony in May, culminating with Leila McCarthy, the Social Studies Department coordinator at Riverside Middle School, being selected as the East Providence School Department’s Teacher of the Year for 2019.
Mrs. McCarthy was announced as the RMS Teacher of the Year and introduced by principal Rob Perry. Of his school’s winner, Mr. Perry said, “Leila is a leader among her peers and a beacon for her students…a consummate educator.”
The East Providence School District’s Pre-Kindergarten program, in just its third year, earned the very lofty distinction of a five-star rating according to the Rhode Island Department of Education’s BrightStars measure.
In acknowledging the achievement, Pre-K principal Karen Rebello saluted the teachers and aides associated with the program in classrooms at Martin Middle School and Oldham Elementary School in May.
East Providence became only the third public school Pre-K program in the state to earn the top BrightStars ranking, joining Barrington and Westerly. Coventry also recently entered the group.
New EPHS groundbreaking
A groundbreaking ceremony for the new, $189.5 million East Providence High School took place Wednesday, June 6, on the grounds of the current site off Pawtucket Avenue where the future, 304,000-square-foot, four-story facility will also be constructed.
MC’d by Superintendent Kathryn Crowley, a large, boisterous crowd of residents, school personnel and students as well as elected officials from the state and city gathered for the traditional shovels-in-ground event.
EPHS junior Megan Amore opened the ceremony with the singing of the National Anthem. The EPHS Chorus, under the direction of Maryann Lasorsa, sang the school’s alma mater, originally composed by Kathy Cauley Davis a 1963 graduate, and the EPHS Band, directed by Marisa Silva, provided background music for the event.
Superintendent Crowley called the turnout of those gathered “overwhelming.” Paying note of those elected and appointed officials who played a key role in getting the project through the construction phase, the superintendent also made special reference to sixth grade pupils from both the Riverside and Martin Middle Schools, who in 2025, will become the first class to graduate from the new EPHS, which is expected to be ready for use in time begin classes in the fall of 2021.
The Friends of Townie Athletics, the non-profit organization conceived to augment administrative support of sports throughout the East Providence School District, completed its 25th anniversary year with the close of the 2018-19 term in June.
According to the notes of current FOTA secretary Stephanie Vinhateiro, herself a member for 11 years, the organization formed in the fall of 1993. Then District Athletic Director Ken Reall brought together a group of teachers, coaches, former athletes and parents to support the coaches and teams in their fundraising efforts at the time. Over the last two decades and a half, the group’s efforts have continued in that initial endeavor.
One of the strengths of the organization has been consistency of its membership. Millie Morris, Clarence "Junior" Butler and Dr. Tom Antonian have been with the FOTA at or about its inception. Currently, Mr. Butler serves as president, Ms. Morris vice president with Greg Dias as treasurer and Kevin Monagle as assistant treasurer overseeing all team fundraising accounts.
“There was a need for it at that time because of the nature of the sports activities and not getting enough financial support. And at the time there was this dichotomy between the city and the school department about how sports would be funded. I think everybody involved at that time felt the need was there,” Dr. Antonian said. “But it's the present group that got it grow where it’s at. That’s phenomenal. I still can’t believe it’s at the level it’s at right now.”
Kathryn Crowley Superintendent of the East Providence Public Schools, has been selected as the 2020 Rhode Island Superintendent of the Year. Her selection by the Rhode Island School Superintendents' Association (RISSA) was announced at its General Membership Meeting in August at Wanumetonomy Country Club in Middletown. Mrs. Crowley will also be recognized by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) at its National Conference on Education to be held in Sand Diego, Calif., in February 2020.
Waterfront Commission anniversary
Fifteen years since its inception, things are “progressing nicely,” thank you, said East Providence Waterfront Commission chairman Bill Fazioli. The story of how the city’s shoreline has been revamped has had its ebbs and flows, but now seemingly appears to be one investors know well and are interesting in taking part.
Mr. Fazioli recently reflected on the body’s worthwhile milestone, noting how mostly external factors have played both positively and negatively in its ability to see its mission come to fruition.
And there’s no better person to do so. Mr. Fazioli, as East Providence City Manager at the time, was an ex officio member of the commission when state legislation brought it to life back in 2003 and it was first seated in 2004. Following his departure as manager, the then City Council in 2006 appointed him as a voting member. In 2009, he took on the role as acting chairman. After a lengthy period with the interim title, the previously seated council formally recommended, with state approval, him being named full-time chair just last year, 2018.
“Progress is ongoing,” Mr. Fazioli said. “While the process admittedly started slow, we’re now at a point where I think we have some good momentum.”
New Planning director
Former city manager and current Waterfront Commission chairman Bill Fazioli was hired in September by Mayor DaSilva to serve as the first director of the city’s newly formed Planning and Economic Development Department. Mr. Fazioli is responsible for overseeing development opportunities and business growth in the city and identify opportunities to expand development for arts and culture within the city.
Mr. Fazioli, in the near term, replaced Diane Feather, who announced her retirement after nearly three decades as a Planning employee, the last few serving as acting department director. Jeanne Boyle was the last full-time Planning director, before leaving the post in June of 2017 for a job in Pawtucket similar to the one Mr. Fazioli will now have in city.
Mr. Fazioli served as city manager of East Providence from 2004-2006, where he successfully attracted a new operations center for a major bank, which added hundreds of jobs to the workforce. He has been a Waterfront Commission member since its inception in 2004 and served as its interim chair for several years before being seated permanently to the position by state and local officials in 2018.
“I am extremely excited about the opportunity to contribute to Mayor DaSilva’s vision to expand the city’s tax base and increase job opportunities for its residents,” Mr. Fazioli said. “In a short period of time, the mayor, along with the steadfast efforts of the Planning Department under the direction of Diane Feather have created a strong pipeline of compelling projects that can transform East Providence.”
The seasonal concert series at Bold Point Park will continue at that location for at least the next year and a half, pending the construction of a permanent facility a few hundreds yards down the shoreline.
The City Council in October approved a contract extension with the national booking agency, Live Nation Worldwide Inc., covering the 2020 concert season through the middle of June 2021.
The extension sets up a series of three six-month agreements. As included in the existing pact, Live Nation will promote between 20-30 shows per season, including music, comedy, so-called private events and public events such as local graduations, charitable events and festivals.
Also continued is a per ticket fee schedule to be paid to the city. East Providence will receive $1.20 for every ticket sold to a public event, which is the same number as was paid this past season in the final year of the original contract, and $1 per ticket sold to private events.
In the fall, the council approved an ordinance entering into a Tax Incremental Finance (TIF) agreement with the Chevron Corporation aimed at the redevelopment of the former Union Oil Company of California (UNOCAL) storage tank location off Waterfront Drive. Chevron was seeking up to $9,370,000 to foster redevelopment at the UNOCAL site. The monies, as with the Kettle Point development a few hundred yards south, would be used to install the necessary infrastructure needed to allow for further construction at the site.
The redevelopment envisions 115 apartment residences, 43,000 square feet of restaurant/retail space and a 150-room hotel. In addition, the plan includes a 400 seat amphitheater, 5,600 sf of public access space, 58,000 of landscaped areas, 9,500 sf of terrace and gardens, a 400-foot walkway, parking and the initial extension of Waterfront Drive past where it currently stops at the Tockwotton residences.
New concert venue
The promoters of the Bold Point Park concert series in city have purchased the nearby parcel of land known as South Quay with an eye towards building a permanent venue as part of a larger mixed use project.
In the press release issued in July, the city, the Waterfront Commission, Rhode Island Waterfront Enterprises LLC and Live Nation, the national booking agency, announced the sale of the land and outlines of the proposed redevelopment plan. Papers filed with the office of City Clerk Samantha Burnett put the purchase price at $4.5 million.
Old Shaw’s renovation
Left dormant for the better part of a decade, the former Shaw’s Supermarket location in the east corner of the Shopper’s Town Plaza on Taunton Avenue was ready to finally have a new tenant.
According to both city officials and local real estate professionals, the vacant cornerstone 52,000 square foot building at 575-585 Taunton Ave., will be converted into a Planet Fitness branded center. The space has been available since Shaw’s renovated, expanded and relocated the similarly sized area at the west end of the property, last occupied by the defunct Ames Department Store, about 10 years ago now.
Harris Krafchick, of Jobel Realty, said Planet Fitness will occupy approximately 40 percent of the available space. He said the business is expected to be open by either late 2019 or early 2020.
A city man will serve at 26 years for the May 2017 killing of his girlfriend in East Providence.
The office of Attorney General Peter F. Neronha announced in June, Allen Hanson, of East Providence, pleaded guilty three days earlier to one count of involuntary manslaughter in the death of 41-year-old Jennifer Silva on May 20, 2017.
Providence County Superior Court Justice Luis M. Matos sentenced Mr. Hanson, 33, to a 30-year full sentence with 26 years to serve at the ACI and the balance suspended with probation. According to the AG’s office, had the case proceeded to trial, the state was prepared to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that on May 20, 2017, Mr. Hanson assaulted Ms. Silva at her home on Warren Avenue and, by his actions, caused her death.
Detective Sergeant Mark Bourget of the East Providence Police Department led the investigation into the case, and Assistant Attorney General Daniel Guglielmo and Special Assistant Attorney General Katelyn Revens prosecuted it on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General.
In July, well regarded and long time public sector employee Robert Rock retired as director of the East Providence Senior Center.
“It has been a distinct honor and privilege to have served you for the past 21 years,” Mr. Rock, a former East Providence Police officer, wrote in a note to seniors. “As in any great organization, when the person in charge surrounds him or herself with professional, compassionate, wonderful and caring people, the organization thrives.”