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URI students asked to design rec center

RICHMOND — The town has asked 15 senior students in the University of Rhode Island’s landscape architecture program to design a new community center at the Richmond Commons development.

The Richmond Commons project, which will be the largest in the town’s history, recently received final approval from the Planning Board. It is located on 294 acres off Route 138 in Wyoming and will include 399 residential units and nearly 700,000 square feet of retail and office space. A 48-acre parcel on the east side of the property, much of it wetlands, has been given to the town, which plans to use 14 acres of the land for a new community outdoor activity area and recreation center.

“It was my idea to donate some of the conservation land and the recreation land,” owner and developer Jon Aiello explained.

Landscape architecture professor Will Green, whose students have worked with the town on past projects such as the town hall annex, said this class is now researching the site.

“The students assess the ecological values, the physical values, the historic and cultural values to try to come up with the constraints that the site would have and the opportunities that it provides,” he said.

Richmond Town Planner Denise Stetson explained that she and other members of the newly-formed Recreational Needs Assessment Committee are looking at facilities in other towns to determine what might work in Richmond.

“We’re going to look at the pros and cons of a senior center, stand alone, versus a combination community center that has community rooms that anyone can use,” she said.

The students will spend the entire fall semester on the project. In addition to evaluating the property and meeting with town officials, they will invite Richmond residents to at least one public meeting to provide input on what kind of facility they would like to see on the property.

“They will hold a public meeting at the beginning to get public input, and that’s something the committee really wants to do. They want to have as many residents, people from the community, come out and say what they want to have for this area,” Stetson said.

Green noted that one of the students’ goals was to present residents with several options.

“When we approach a project, we’re looking to provide options, something like a vision — or a few — of what the future could look like for a particular sire under a particular set of circumstances,” he said. “In this case, there are users of the site, there are different groups in the town who have needs, and there are issues of building and parking and recreation and different age groups, and probably other offices within the town that might be a potential use for that site.”

The town will pay $7,000 for the students’ work, a fraction of what a landscape architecture firm would charge. Of that total, $5,500 will cover project expenses, and $1,500 will be used to pay one or two of the students to prepare the final report.

Stetson said she was hoping that residents of all ages would participate in the consultation process. The first meeting will take place in late October or early November.

“People don’t like to come out to meetings, but this is really important, to try to get residents of all ages to at least come to that first meeting and let us know,” she said. “We’re also going to try and do an online survey. We may try to put that together before, so we can do some of it at the workshop, but I know that the Town Council really would like to have this be something that the residents have a lot of input on.”

Town Council President B. Joseph Reddish agreed that public engagement would be key to the success of the project.

“I hope that residents really get involved, because they’re going to be trying to pool the thoughts and needs of what the people of Richmond want in their recreational space,” he said.

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