Progress still slow for renovation of East Smithfield Neighborhood Center

Progress still slow for renovation of East Smithfield Neighborhood Center

BREEZE PHOTO BY JACQUELYN MOOREHEAD East Smithfield Neighborhood Center Building Committee member and architect Robert Leach went through multiple possible renditions of the future layout for the community center last Tuesday. (Breeze photo by Jacquelyn Moorehead)

SMITHFIELD – Little progress seems to have been made during last Tuesday’s work session of the East Smithfield Community Center Building Committee and the Town Council.

Members on both boards remain optimistic that renovations can be performed to return the building to its former splendor as a community center providing services to Esmond.

The center has been closed since 2017 due to a list of deficiencies and safety issues. The East Smithfield Community Center Building Committee was tasked with coming up with a plan to restore the building while preserving its historical significance.

Robert Leach, member of the Smithfield Historic Preservation Commission and the Building Committee, kicked off the work session with a presentation of architectural designs for multiple concepts for the future layout of the center.

“What we looked at was different tasks and parts of the project,” Leach said during the meeting. “What I’m presenting is possible paths and solutions for those tasks.”

After a contentious work session last month that led the former Smithfield Historic Preservation Commission Chairwoman Katie Law to resign, Leach said he was happy to see everyone on board with getting the center back online.

Plans include returning a food pantry back to the center from the Smithfield Senior Center, adding new offices for the Recreation Department, and adding rooms for private functions or town meetings.

During the work session, council member Maxine Cavanagh said that the residents of Esmond have the greatest need for a community center.

“I think it would be a great service to the area,” she said.

Cavanagh said Esmond residents have said a sewer plant and Esmond Village, the affordable housing complex, are the only amenities the town has given Esmond.

“I support the opening of the East Smithfield Neighborhood Center. It is about time that the residents of Esmond are not forgotten,” Cavanagh said in an email.

Cavanagh said she hopes it can become a place for the town’s youth to gather as well. Building Committee member and Smithfield Parks and Recreation Director Robert Caine agreed.

“I hope that the other Town Council members will join me in opening back this valuable historic building,” Cavanagh said.

While Council President Suzy Alba said she was on board with preserving the historic aspects of the building, Councilor Sean Kilduff said he does not believe the building is historic.

Alba said she met with the Rhode Island Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission’s state historic preservation officer J. Paul Loether, who said the center was a “historic gem.”

The center is also on Smithfield’s registry of historic places.

Alba said she is confident the town can gain funding through grants to help pay for the restoration of the center, in addition to the $126,000 the town has set aside.

For now, the building remains untouched as the town continues to decide on architectural designs for the neighborhood center.