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Residents have plenty to say about new recreation center


RICHMOND – About 75 residents came to a public workshop Monday evening to tell landscape architecture students from the University of Rhode Island what kind of place they want the town’s new recreation center to be. Attendees sat in the cafeteria at Richmond Elementary School as the students presented different options for the facility, which will be built on 14 of the 49 acres donated to the town by Richmond Commons developer, John Aiello Jr.

Town Council President B. Joseph Reddish, who has been urging residents to participate in the planning process, said he was pleased with the strong turnout.

“I’m really excited to see that our residents are getting involved. This is about them, our community together,” he said.

Members of the Richmond Senior Center, who are weary of meeting in cramped quarters over the police station, said they wanted to make sure their needs were heard.

“We want to let the town know that the needs of the adult community, the senior community are growing,” said senior center Chairman, Dennis McGinty. “We want to make sure that we have a facility available for the aging community. So that’s our purpose here. To let this group from URI know that we’re very interested. We’d like them to take us seriously.”

One of those seniors, Jackie Kenyon, said she would support a single community center rather than separate recreation and senior centers. She also said she was going to push for an ice skating rink like the one in Westerly.

“There’s nothing around here outdoors,” she said. “In the long run, I think that would be great for adults and children.”

The 15 students, all seniors in URI’s sustainable design studio, divided the workshop into three phases: an overview of the history and physical properties of the site, an exercise in which residents armed with clickers recorded their preferences from choices projected on a screen, and, finally, smaller working groups, each led by a student, where people could ask questions and interact with each other.

Residents expressed strong preferences for a traditional-style building with sustainable landscaping features such as a rain garden and low-key signage and lighting. They also wanted the building to be as energy efficient as possible, possibly equipped with solar panels.

Allison Desbonnet said the workshop was a learning experience not just for the residents, but for the students as well.

“We’ve never interacted with the public like this before and had a workshop, so this is a real, new experience,” she said. “It’s great.”

“You really have to give the people what they want,” added fellow student, Ramon Ibarluca. “You’re working for them.”

The students and their professor, Will Green, have walked and studied the property, and Green said several features make it a challenging site for the students to work with.

“There are wetlands, and there are wetland buffers, and there are property lines and setbacks, and I think that will be a challenge when the students get to the next phase,” he said. “But that just means if they’re careful they’ll be able to say ‘Well, this is what the site can accommodate’.”

The students will present their final report to residents on Dec. 16.

Then the town will have to determine how construction of the center will be funded. Several private and as-yet-unnamed sources are being considered for possible grants.

Conservation Commission Chairman James Turek is completing an application to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management for building walking trails on the property.

State Representative and Richmond resident Larry Valencia said he hoped the town’s efforts to raise money from private funding sources would be successful, because he was not optimistic that there would be much money coming from the state.

“That would be an ideal situation, if we didn’t have to spend state money,” he said. “Money’s tight all over.”

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