July 14, 2015 02:31PM
By DALE P. FAULKNER
Sun Staff Writer
WESTERLY — The Town Council gave its unanimous support Monday to a job training and education center proposed for the corner of Canal and Friendship streets by committing up to $300,000 toward the cost of the project.
Anticipating a host of direct and indirect benefits from the project, councilors said the money requested by the Royce Family Fund represents a sound investment in the town’s future.
“I think it’s such an opportunity for this community. I think it’s a bargain at $300,000 to have something like this brought to Westerly,” Councilor Mario Celico said.
The center will be leased to the Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education and function as a satellite campus of the Community College of Rhode Island. Its anchor employer will be Electric Boat, which is facing an urgent need for skilled laborers at its Groton and Quonset Point facilities. The Westerly center will offer painting, electronics, carpentry and electrical and electronics training.
Plans for the center grew out of a chance encounter at the Ocean House between state Rep. Sam Azzinaro, D-Westerly, and Charles Royce, the longtime mutual fund manager who was the driving force behind the renovation of the Ocean House. During their first introduction to each other, the two men discussed the need for a community college presence in downtown Westerly, an area that Royce is also focused on reviving.
Council President James Silvestri explained that he suggested the council consider approving a resolution committing up to $300,000 even though the Royce Family Fund, a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation created by Royce, had requested just $250,000.
“I didn’t want to tie the hands of the council if we wanted to contribute a little more,” Silvestri said.
Councilors Louis Sposato and Philip Overton expressed concern with the increase from $250,000 to $300,000, but ultimately joined with their fellow councilors in approving a contribution of up to $300,000.
Councilor Jack Carson called the town’s contribution “a very very small investment for the payback and benefit.”
The project is estimated to cost $4.51 million, including $450,000 for acquisition of the 2.5-acre property currently owned by Sorensen & McCuin Contractors, $550,000 for site work and $3.5 million (including contingency) for construction.
In addition to the town’s commitment, the Royce Fund has committed $1.775 million. Organizers hope to obtain a state brownfields grant of $640,000 to be used toward remediating contamination from the property’s prior use as a freight yard; $1.5 million in additional state funds; and $335,000 from other philanthropic organizations.
Thomas Liguori Jr., the lawyer who represents the Royce Family Fund, said project architects worked with the town’s Architectural Review Board to gain approval of the building’s design but will continue to work on the design to address concerns raised by the Planning Board and any future concerns.
A number of the project’s backers, including Superintendent of Schools Roy Seitsinger Jr., School Committee Chairman David Patten, Azzinaro, state Sen. Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, and officials from North Stonington and the state of Rhode Island were on hand Monday to show their support.
In addition to the financial commitment, the Town Council agreed that the town would install sidewalks along Friendship Street from Canal Street to the entrance of the proposed facility, install any necessary waterline upgrades and waive all municipal fees for permits and hookups to municipal utilities.
The town will make its contribution in five installments. The first payment will be made after a certificate of occupancy is issued.
High school seniors from Westerly, the Chariho region, Stonington, and North Stonington would be eligible for training at the facility. Upon graduation, the students would have immediate access to a job at Electric Boat and would be in line to start additional studies at the center geared toward attaining an associate’s degree.
Electric Boat has committed to reimbursing post-high school tuition costs for students who maintain a minimum of a B average.
Once up and running, the facility would train 120 people in 13-week intervals, Liguori said. Skills such as welding and electronics installation will be taught.
Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island will also use the facility, and employers other than Electric Boat will be encouraged to use the center for worker training.
Organizers hope the 34,000-square-foot building, consisting of 18 classrooms over 20,000 square feet and a 14,000-square-foot training space, will be completed, except for classroom fit-out, by early July 2016. Liguori said the project highlights the town’s ability to put together philanthropic donations, volunteerism and municipal participation in a way similar to the efforts to create and sustain Westerly Library and Wilcox Park, the Ocean Community YMCA, Westerly Hospital, and the town’s volunteer fire departments.
“It shows our ability to sometimes, if necessary, go it alone and bring others around to our way of thinking,” Liguori said.
Councilor Jean Gagnier did not attend the meeting Monday.