COVID-19 CRISIS

Former Citizens site chosen for field hospital

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As the state works to expand the capacity of its health care system ahead of an expected surge in COVID-19 cases, the former Citizens Bank facility on Sockanosset Cross Road has been chosen as one of three field hospital sites.

The Cranston location – along with the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence and the former Lowe’s building in North Kingstown’s Quonset Business Park – was selected based on assessments of various sites conducted through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Gov. Gina Raimondo announced the field hospital sites during her daily briefing on April 3. Combined, they will house more than 1,000 beds.

“We are working very hard to make sure that they are ready,” the governor said, calling it a “Herculean effort.”

The building at 100 Sockanosset Cross Road – which was vacated when Citizens opened its new corporate headquarters in Johnston – is owned by Carpionato Group, operating as 100 Sockanosset LLC. Prior to the bank’s departure, approximately 2,500 employees worked at the Cranston site.

A proposed lease agreement between 100 Sockanosset LLC and the state was set to go before the State Properties Committee on Tuesday afternoon as the Herald went to press. The Quonset site’s lease agreement was also on the agenda, while the Convention Center lease was set to be considered during a meeting of the Convention Center Authority earlier that afternoon. Both meetings were to be conducted virtually, given current social distancing guidelines.

The Cranston lease agreement, a copy of which was provided by the state Department of Administration, lists the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services and the Rhode Island National Guard as the official tenants.

Monthly rent is listed as $302,105. The lease carries a six-month term and an option for month-to-month extensions beyond that timeframe. The monthly rent equates to $1 per square foot, given that the building at 100 Sockanosset Cross Road spans 302,105 square feet, according to the lease.

During Saturday’s statewide COVID-19 briefing, Rhode Island Director of Administration Brett Smiley said the state would pay a “nominal fee” to the owners of each of the three field hospital sites “so we can have control of the site and have appropriate legal protections.” He said state officials “fully expect that those funds will be reimbursed through the federal stimulus.”

The Cranston site agreement includes a number of provisions regarding the rights and responsibilities of both the tenants and landlord. Additionally, it includes language that would allow for construction of a Topgolf entertainment facility at the site – approval for which Carpionato received from the city last year – to proceed.

“Landlord will install construction fencing and limit access to its construction personnel and invitees – with no access to the site or Building by such invitees and construction operation,” the agreement reads. “Tenant covenants and agrees that there shall be construction noise resulting from such construction and agrees that same shall not be a default by Landlord on its obligations under this Lease.”

In addition to approvals for the Topgolf development, Carpionato Group in January received the City Council’s backing for an additional zoning change at 100 Sockanosset Cross Road. That change added drive-thru restaurants and motor/recreational vehicle sales as allowed uses under the site’s commercial zoning, with restrictions.

During a conference call with reporters on Monday, Dr. James McDonald, medical director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, said secondary, non-hospital treatment facilities in Rhode Island will be used to treat “low acuity” COVID-19 patients, or those not requiring intensive care.

Joseph Wendelken, public information officer for the Department of Health, confirmed on Monday afternoon that the new field hospitals are among those secondary sites.

Wendelken said officials anticipate the field hospital sites being set up within 15 to 20 days. He said of the more than 1,000 additional hospital beds being set up, close to 600 would be located at the Convention Center. He did not provide specific numbers for the Cranston and Quonset sites.

“The architectural plans are getting finalized now,” he said.

Reached last week, Kelly Coates, president and CEO of Carpionato Group, referred inquiries to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Beth Gosselin, chief of public affairs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New England Division, provided the following statement: “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England Division completed initial site assessments through FEMA for several facilities in the state to address the possible conversion of existing buildings into alternate care facilities (ACF). However, we have not received a request for further support beyond assessments but stand ready to support if that request should come.”

Mayor Allan Fung offered the following statement regarding the Cranston site’s selection: “The Governor’s office worked with the Carpionato group to secure the former Citizens building for a potential field site to be utilized during a surge in hospital capacity. While we were not involved in the selection process, we stand ready as a city to be good stewards and hosts, and support their life-saving work for our neighbors in need.”

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