Cranston’s 2022 was a year of returning to normal following the pandemic and its effects. As public meetings transitioned from virtual to in person and face masks regulations were lifted in …
Cranston’s 2022 was a year of returning to normal following the pandemic and its effects. As public meetings transitioned from virtual to in person and face masks regulations were lifted in schools, the city crept out of the pandemic world. Over 365 days residents showed interest in many elements within the city such as the election, construction projects, arts and Budlong Pool. Below are some of the significant events the Cranston Herald recorded over the city last year.
A PARK REVIVAL
The Park Theatre reopened under the ownership of Ed Brady and Jeff Quinlan. The co-owners held a press conference on Feb. 22 revealing their company’s (Dig In Dining and Entertainment) vision for the venue. Local and state officials gathered at the opening including Gov. Daniel McKee, Mayor Ken Hopkins, former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, Steve Feinberg of the Rhode Island Film and TV Office, Rick Simone of the Ocean State Coalition and Jimmy Burchfield Sr. of CES Classic Entertainment & Sports.
Brady and Quinlan purchased the building from former owner Pi Patel who reopened the building in 2009 after investing $12 million into renovations. The pandemic put a close to the facility in 2020, leading to Brady’s eventual purchase of the building.
“We love coming up with a dream and keeping it right here in Rhode Island and making R.I. our own Hollywood,” Brady told the Cranston Herald in a February interview.
The Feb. 22 event spoke of the facility’s phased opening – starting with the Park Place Cafe and Comedy Park. The main stage opened in the spring eventually followed by The Rolfe supper club.
“I learned a lot of my life lessons watching TV, theatre, movies and going to shows; it allowed me to dream. I want to make sure this future generation here in Cranston dreams,” Brady told the Cranston Herald in February.
Since the opening, individuals have been inducted into the venue’s Comedy Hall of Fame including Ruth Buzzi who was inducted Feb. 24 and Al Ducharme on July 23.
Rain damage from a Sept. 5 flash flood caused the closure of the establishment’s main stage for six weeks after rain burst through the theatre’s walls and ceilings. All shows were postponed and rescheduled with the building reopening Oct. 28. The venue recovered from damage and went on to host many holiday events including Dig In Dining and Entertainment’s tenth annual collaborative Toys 4 Tots Drive inside the Park Theatre’s Cafe & Comedy Park on Nov. 29 and more events that gave back to the community. The theatre has completed December through being the location for Cranston’s "Cops and Kids Holiday Party" in conjunction with the nonprofit Cranston Cares and Comprehensive Community Action Plan (CCAP) on Dec.3.
CONSTRUCTING CRANSTON’S FUTURE
The long-awaited Topgolf project swung into action with a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Sockanosset Road facility on July 27. Plans for the new 68,000 development started in 2019 but were delayed due to the pandemic. During the summer, the Cranston Herald reported that Topgolf invested $33 million into the site along with $100 million from the Carpionato Group.
“The average salary for most of these new jobs is $70,000 to start,” Mayor Ken Hopkins told the Cranston Herald on July 27.
Word of construction of Itri Square in Knightsville broke in a Jan. 13 Cranston Herald article, followed by site work beginning in August. In January, Hopkins spoke about the strong ties between Itri, Italy, and Knightsville and how the city plans to replicate its new pocket park, sidewalks and street lighting after Itri to honor the local Itranis’ heritage.
Site work on Knightsville’s pocket park began the week of Aug. 16 with city employees removing existing shrubs and trees; Chief of Staff Anthony Moretti said Department of Public Works Director Richard Bernardo came up with the idea of producing cost saving measures for the city by keeping the project’s site work in-house. The city estimates that it is saving $10,000 plus through using its own workers. Phase one work includes providing labor for the gazebo, pergola, fountain, bocce court, trash receptacle, tables and benches; whoever is selected as contractor must have Knightsville Park completed by June 9, 2023.
After 56 years of watching over Knightsville, the gazebo was demolished on Aug. 18. Moretti said the city salvaged pieces of the old gazebo which were given to the St. Mary’s Feast Society and Ladies’ Auxiliary as memorabilia. The gazebo had been built by Itraini immigrants but, due to wear and tear over the years, needed to be replaced.
The city received multiple grants for the project.
Cranston Public Schools (CPS) saw major construction this year with the continued development of Garden City Elementary School; the school’s steel structure was underway as of March 18.
"We are very excited to see the ongoing progress of Garden City Elementary School. We are now beginning to be able to see things taking place above ground, while previously a lot of the work was about the foundations and things going on underground,” Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse told the Cranston Herald in March.
As of Aug. 25, the project cost $53 million and was almost fully enclosed with Dimeo Construction being halfway through completing roof work. The approximately 80,000 square foot building saw 80 to 90 workers onsite five days a week in the summer.
Chief of Facilities Management and Capital Projects Ed Collins explained in August that the district was doing away with traditional classrooms. Instead, the interior’s two floors would consist of five learning commons that would be shared by multiple teachers and different grades. Each learning commons will have an area for peer tutoring, independent studying and large/small group collaborations.
Collins added that these spaces support all 20 teaching modalities and include advisory rooms for students and a shared room for teachers’ desks.
With the traditional school model, teachers were down the hall from one another and, unless they were in the lunchroom together, wouldn’t see one another or have time to collaborate.
The learning commons includes flexible seating, so kids can come in, create the space they want and put everything back where it belongs at the end of the day; there will also be outdoor learning commons space teachers can take advantage of as well.
Hallways, which are part of the traditional model, have no educational value. The building is designed so that everything is education and the learning commons maximizes that space.
“I think for all this time we’ve been building schools and cookie cutting them and sticking teachers in the middle of them,” Collins said on Aug. 25. “We’re not building schools, we’re changing the way education is delivered.”
As of November, the building’s completed parts include interior and exterior framing, roof and stairs. Ongoing work includes windows, siding panels, masonry band, rough-in and drywall. The district also started phase two of Eden Park Elementary where ADA upgrades were completed over the summer and work continues to be done to the cafeteria and gym.
The city’s planning department also saw multiple developments come before the Planning Commission that would bring a sizable number of affordable housing units to the city.
On Feb. 19, Cranston residents, city council members and Hopkins gathered inside the Pub for a site walk to hear Legion Development Inc. talk about its proposed future plans for the Park Avenue property. The company sought to tear down Legion Bowl and Billiards and Pub and construct an 84,000 square foot four-story mixed-use building that would house up to 80 residential units and include a 2,000 square foot retail space on the first floor. At the site walk, residents raised concerns about parking, traffic and affordable housing.
On July 12, the project went before the Planning Commission seeking a zone change from C-3 (general commercial use) to C-3 with conditions. This change would allow for more site appropriate uses such as density, off-site parking and building height. In a 6-1 vote (Commissioner James Donahue dissenting), the Planning Commission approved the ordinance which was sent to the City Council’s ordinance committee where it received approval.
Another project with an affordable housing component arose in the fall after an Oct. 19 site for The Omni Group’s construction proposal on a multi-family housing unit at 747 Pontiac Ave. Residents were concerned about potential decreases in property value and limited parking – adding that developers were squeezing too much into such a small space.
The project went before the Planning Commission on Nov. 1 where it received City Council Ordinance Committee approval on Nov. 17 and approved by the full City Council on Nov. 28.
Election season kicked off in the summer with candidates declaring their intent to run for office and was followed by lots of campaigning.
Results from the Sept. 13 primary showed that 10,151 Cranston residents voted, which was 17 percent of the city’s total eligible voters (a calculation which included inactive voters). At that time, according to Registrar/Director of Elections Nick Lima, 993 Cranston residents (10 percent) voted by mail, 1,100 residents (11 percent) voted early and 8,058 residents (79 percent) showed up to one of the city’s polling locations. The city had 250 people helping between poll workers and Election Day field personnel.
In the Nov. 8 General Election, council members held onto their seats with Democrats taking the majority (5-4) and the city’s School Committee welcomed three new individuals to its ranks.
General Treasure Seth Magaziner and former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung sought after the Second Congressional District seat with Magaziner landing the victory.
January opened with a question of whether Budlong Pool would reopen; the pool had been closed to residents for two years because of the pandemic. A Jan. 27 Cranston Herald article stated that there were “some maintenance issues to watch out for.” These problems revealed themselves in a feasibility study conducted by Federal Hill Group, LLC, which was released April 22.
According to January’s article, the city pays between $100,000 and $150,000 to make the pool operable for a six to eight week period during the summer – it takes roughly $40,000 just to fill the pool with water. The facility opens in the beginning of July and closes in late-August.
Moretti said prior to the pandemic, Budlong Pool sold roughly 350 season passes per season.
A May 5 Cranston Herald article found that opening the pool this year “is not looking good” due to public safety concerns that were made apparent through a feasibility study
According to the feasibility study, “the current pool has a full liner and is served by a sand filter fed by a perimeter gutter system that was retrofitted to the pool.”
Cracks in the pool also caused problems. When the water table is low in the summer and early fall, water leaks from the pool. In the winter and spring, the water table is elevated and ground water seeps into the pool through the cracks.
The pool house, which dates back to the 1940s had a high probability of containing asbestos and lead due to its age. There was evidence of active leaks from the roof, and a roof drain that has been leaking for an extended period of time has saturated the structural slab separating the building’s two floors. According to the feasibility study, “the structural slab has spalled its lower layer of concrete and one can view the exposed rusted and deteriorated steel reinforcing bars.”
Furthermore, the building’s exterior chimney is sinking from subsidence of the soils, which has resulted in the chimney structure pulling away from the building’s exterior.
The feasibility study said, “the risk of collapse is so evident that at some point a bent steel brace was installed around the upper portion of the chimney and anchored into the surrounding stone in an attempt to prevent full collapse.”
Councilwoman Aniece Germain toured the pool house in April with Parks and Recreation director Ray Tessaglia and was surprised by its condition.
“What I saw was negligence,” said Germain, who represents Ward 2 where Budlong Pool is located.
As of April 29, Moretti said the city’s grant writer submitted a grant request to the congressional delegation asking for $2.8 million in funds for Budlong Pool.
On July 25, Germain put forth a resolution at the City Council meeting to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) monies to repair the facility. Germain continued to inquire about the pool’s status and, at the council’s September meeting, was informed that Director of Public Works Richard Bernardo had contracted an architect to develop a conceptual design for the project as well as 3D models. Phase one of the plan is to get the pool open.
“There could be different phases down the road – such as splash pads and other facilities,” Moretti said at the Sept. 26 meeting.
Moretti said the conceptual design costs roughly $7,500; funds for the conceptual design work came from the Public Works Department’s budget.
OTHER TOP STORIES
Two American Rescue Plan Act workshops were held virtually on Jan. 27 and Feb. 10 where council members heard from residents about what they would like to see the $42.6 million in federal funding used for. Approximately 60 people joined the Jan. 27 workshop with nine out of 18 individuals stepping forward to say they would like to see the money spent on affordable housing.
The federal government granted this money to the city as Covid relief funding which many described as “once in a lifetime” funding.
To gather more community responses, the city selected EMC Research Inc. – a national full-service market and research firm with locations across the country – to conduct a poll that would measure the opinions and attitudes of Cranston voters on the potential uses of federal funds. EMC Research was one of two bids the city received to conduct this poll.
In early March, Councilwoman Lammis Vargas and Councilwoman Nicole Renzulli created a survey that asked individuals how they would like to ARPA money spent. Cranston Public Library Director Ed Garcia facilitated the survey and shared the results at a City Council meeting.
The survey, which was offered in English and Spanish, received 1,241 responses in English and three responses in Spanish. While the survey ran from late February to March 31, Garcia said the majority of responses came in that first week and dwindled in the following weeks.
The top three Covid recovery-related priorities individuals would like to see funded through APRA was city infrastructure such as improving roads, sidewalks and city buildings (58 percent of respondents), investments in parks plazas and other public recreation spaces (47.9 percent of respondents) and economic relief in the form of direct payments to taxpayers (42.6 percent of respondents).
Gaspee Days returned to Pawtuxet Village with a bigger and better celebration thanks to the 250th anniversary. While the organization’s Feb. 24 kick-off gala at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet was canceled due to the increased spread of Covid, events were in full swing come May.
In a May interview, Gaspee Days President Steve Miller, 59, recalled his excitement knowing the parade would come down his street as a child and that his parents would host a large cookout later in the day.
In April, Miller said the committee held a cocktail event of 75 people which kicked off the activities for this year. Gaspee Days’ biggest events include the three day Memorial Day arts and crafts fair, the 5K foot race and block party in Pawtuxet Park. Miller said the 5K is on track to exceed the number of participants in years past by 20 percent; he thinks the increase is due to people wanting to get back outdoors.
In celebrating the 250th anniversary of the Gaspee’s burning, the committee developed new merchandise including a collaboration with Moniker Brewery in Providence, Apponaug Brewery Company in Warwick and Linesider Brewing in East Greenwich to create three unique and distinct beers.
The Rhode Island Department of Transportation's (RIDOT) railroad bridge project that was supposed to take four months to complete reopened over a year later on the morning of July 15.
One of the issues that caused the bridge closure to be longer than expected was the lack of Amtrak inspectors that were needed on site in order for repairs to occur. Because inspectors varied week to week, contracted workers planned for four hours of work each night, oftentimes resulting in two and a half hours of work.
“After a long two years, our emergency response time will now be back to normal and our kids will be able to safely walk to Park View,” said Hopkins as he stood on the new bridge. “Our residents and business owners have been patient as DOT navigated many challenges in construction, and I want to thank the laborers for their hard work.”
The Park Avenue Railroad Bridge serves 15,000 commuters on a daily basis. Gov. Dan McKee, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos and state Sen. Joshua Miller (Dist. 28 – Cranston, Providence) joined for the celebration.
Cranston celebrated its first female Eagle Scout, Morgan Bitgood, on June 5. Bitwood was a Cranston West senior who joined Boy Scouts at age 14 once girls were allowed in. Bitgood hosted an outdoor cleanup at Edgewood Congregational Church in August of 2021. She and 20 youth and scouts from Cranston Troop 13 and Troop 22 helped trim bushes, pull weeds and vines off the metal fence and painted the fence where the paint was peeling. Bitgood told the Cranston Herald on June 5 that the work saved the church $500 in maintenance costs. According to Ernie Rheaume, who was the master of ceremonies, only six percent of eligible scouts annually will obtain the rank of Eagle, and it is a high honor that takes a lot of work to achieve. In addition to obtaining her new rank, Bitgood received a citation from the City of Cranston for her achievement of becoming the first female Eagle Scout within Cranston.
School Committee members voted to update the district’s masking policy to parental discretion on Feb. 28. The revision of the current masking policy came after McKee’s announcement to lift the mask mandate on March 4 and let school districts decide how they would like to proceed.
“Our schools have been at the front line in the battle against Covid-19,” said Jeannine Nota-Masse, Superintendent of Cranston Public Schools, during the February meeting. “What we must turn our attention to now is mitigating the social and emotional trauma that the virus has left in its wake.”
At the time, School Committee Chair Dan Wall noted that Rhode Island’s vaccination rate was among the highest in the nation. CPS’s Covid transmission rate was very low – with only 19 cases out of 10,000 students and 1,300 staff in the past two weeks of February, as noted by Nota-Masse.
A majority of the 20 parents and students who spoke at the meeting favored parental discretion and cited social and emotional effects of masking as well as that it is difficult to breathe when wearing.
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