Residents grapple with Parks and Rec questions

Residents grapple with Parks and Rec questions

Cheryl Marandola, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, writes her ideas on a posterboard during an open community forum held at the Primrose Fire Station last Saturday. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Where can you play pickleball? What’s going on with the Halliwell property? Is purchasing land really the best way to gain access to open space?

These were some of the questions that arose at an open community forum hosted by the North Smithfield Parks and Recreation Commission last Saturday, Nov. 23. Residents were invited to share their thoughts on these and other topics as part of the commission’s process for identifying priorities moving forward.

The forum comes at an important time in the town’s parks and recreation planning. Last month, the Town Council earmarked an estimated $287,500 payment from the Green Development solar farm for improvements at Veterans Memorial Stadium and is also considering dedicating future solar payments to a community center, open space purchases and other parks-related costs. In the spring, the School Committee voted its support for a study and possible bond to support parks and recreation improvements. Around the same time, a scuffle over a proposed purchase of the Gold property highlighted frustration among some residents about the town’s approach to open space.

Tony Guertin, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said the conversation will help shape the town’s priorities around recreation and reflect a spirit of collaboration in the town.

“We want to further that and we want to grow awareness around the fact that Parks and Recreation, this is for everyone,” he said.

Further comments on these topics can be addressed to Parks and Recreation Program Coordinator Kate Pasquariello at kpasquariello@nsmithfieldri.org or posted to the North Smithfield Recreation Facebook page.

Here are some of the topics discussed on Saturday:

Parks and Recreation programs

Several of those in attendance reminisced about how parents used to be able to send their children to the local playground for organized programs in the summer. While the town no longer offers a summer program at Pacheco Park, Kate Pasquariello, Parks and Recreation Program Coordinator, said the town is trying to establish new programs for both adults and children. One of these potential new programs is pickleball, a sport that has gained popularity as a senior activity in other parts of the country.

Ann Lilley, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, also welcomed suggestions for adult education workshops. In recent months, the commission has hosted workshops on gardening and sewing.

Open space

In May, the news that resident David Gold had sold his 144-acre property – once the subject of a possible purchase by the town – to a solar developer sparked renewed calls for more open space. On Saturday, attendees focused their conversation on alternative ways to gain access to undeveloped land. Richard Keene, who serves as president of the North Smithfield Heritage Association and a member of the Planning Board, suggested the town seek out easements to land rather than purchasing it outright.

“There’s incentives that we could explore to maybe encourage private property owners to grant recreational access,” he said.

Participants also talked about creating a map and improving access to existing properties to encourage use by residents.

As for the Gold property, that land is currently the subject of a proposed solar plan that would see a portion of the property donated to the town outright and the rest left to the town when it gets decommissioned. Keene suggested an old railroad bed on the property could become the beginning of a bikeway between Burrillville and North Smithfield.

Halliwell property

School Committee Chairman James Lombardi updated those present on the status of the former Dr. Harry L. Halliwell School. Last week, he said, members of the School Committee voted to keep the name “Halliwell” at the current property and name the new wing of North Smithfield Elementary School after Dr. Halliwell. While there had been some consideration of renaming NSES with the Halliwell name, the committee ultimately decided to keep the name at the current property, where many residents have supported opening a community center.

Town Administrator Gary Ezovski said the town plans to hold a forum on the future of the Halliwell property and the current Town Hall in the near future.

Other town properties

With several improvements planned or overdue at Pacheco Park and the Paul F. Joyce Athletic Complex, Public Works Director Raymond Pendergast Jr. and other participants highlighted the need for more funding to complete these projects. Participants also discussed the former town playgrounds on Milton Avenue and St. Paul Street, with some support for the idea of maintaining them as locations for future town activities.

Sidewalks

Town Councilor Douglas Osier Jr. raised the question of creating sidewalks on Route 104 and other busy streets to make the town more walkable. While participants generally agreed the lack of sidewalks is a problem, Ezovksi raised the point that many of the roads without sidewalks are state roads.

“We have some of these realities that I think we have to be careful about what we tell people we think we can accomplish,” he said.