New town hall on schedule for August opening
A typical construction scene of sawdust, unfinished floors, naked studs, unconnected air ducts, hanging wires, and makeshift benches greeted an informal tour group last week at the soon-to-be new Jamestown Town Hall.
"Don't worry. We'll be done in time," Charles Martino, superintendent of the scene for Pezzuco Construction of Cranston, insisted. He pointed out the wall completion and paint priming, and ceiling progress on the second floor to be duplicated on the main floor within a month. It will be "ready enough" for dedication and fully done by contract deadline, he assured visitors last week.
Assistant Public Works Director Michael Gray, project manager for the construction, clarified that "in time" means for the Aug. 12 dedication and for the contract finish date of Aug. 31. "It'll be ready for both," Martino assured Gray.
The new Jamestown Town Hall is being finished both for dedication as part of the town's 350th anniversary celebration in mid- August and for move-in by town workers in September. An exact date has not been set for reopening the town hall at the newly refurbished location.
William Burgin, a Jamestown resident, is the Newport-based architect for the two-story structure, which, when combined with the old town hall totals 10,400 square feet. The building replaces three structures on Narragansett and Southwest avenues and on West Street.
Referring to public response, Burgin summarized without swagger, "They'll love it." Gray said, "They will be very proud." Burgin added his agreement, "Yes, they will love it."
Town Administrator Bruce Keiser reported that the town and contractor kept costs within the voter approved $3 million budget. About five change orders, reported publicly as they arose, added $30,000 to the really tight contract price, so tight because the original low bid was $3.4 million and Keiser negotiated it to $2.944 million.
No one found the contractor being skimpy because of it. In fact, contractor Richard Pezzuco waived overhead on change orders and he is donating a replica of the cupola, the quadrilateralshaped ornamental structure that once topped the old Town Hall. The original cupola was removed decades ago and relegated to eventual demise in that building's wet basement, once used as the public works workshop for the once adjacent town barn there.
Pezzuco's workers said their boss is planning a surprise gift of an item milled from a maple tree that could not be saved in making room for the new facility. The contractor was able to arrange to carefully move a red maple for safe overwintering and will return it to be part again of the Town Hall landscape.
Other community donations also will be featured in the new Town Hall, some to be detailed in coming weeks.
Hall of Records
"I can't say enough about the benefits to the community," Town Clerk Arlene Petit enthused. There was no subtlety about her excitement and expectations after a preview tour a few weeks ago.
That is when she saw the concrete shell of her new vault for town records. It did not even have fittings and shelves and accessories but it just about made her swoon.
She was psyched long ago about promises of spaciousness at the new Town Hall and its being a proper place to store the town's valuable records. "I am ecstatic about having a proper place," she gushed. Petit equated the value of record users with the importance of records.
"There is something about a person seeing and handling a document about owning property," Petit said. She talked about the range of emotions she witnesses, and shares, with people who come for various documents, including or especially, marriage licenses, maintained for posterity by her office.
"Oh, with the new space, with the new vault, this will be a forever office," Petit remarked. Well, maybe not forever. The architect was willing to guarantee at least 20 years. Gray commented, "surely much longer." Keiser a year ago promised "at least a century."
Petit also has a surprise historic, fine art contribution for the edifice, as well as historic treasures unearthed during the move from the old Town Hall that is being renovated into the new, gracious Town Council chambers.
The main entry into the chambers will feature a museum quality and secure permanent display of the town's most treasured deed, acquired only a few years ago by the Jamestown Historical Society. The society has a significant stake in the new Town Hall complex: a vault of its own in the basement, to supplement its facilities across the street from the new municipal center on Narragansett Avenue.
Burgin pointed out numerous structural features, including general accessibility and versatility for varied uses of the chambers and conference options, while securing offices, records and files.
Room to decide
Old-timer Joseph Tiexiera, Town Councilman from 1969 to 1973, spoke about his anticipation of the new Town Hall. He was at Petit's temporary office, in the town's Country Club, for personal business last week when she asked him about his memories of the old municipal chambers.
"I can tell you that we made decisions when I was on the council. We decided, without committees," he reported self-approvingly. "We almost tore the old Town Hall down, then, when (Robert) Sutton was there (administrator). We tried for a new one but bond counsel would not allow it. So we kept it and upgraded it," he continued, reporting actions that stretched from 1962 to 1977.
Petit prompted Tiexiera to describe council space during his terms. She said townspeople would line up outside each of the opened windows to see and hear councilors. "Yes, yes," Tiexiera confirmed, but focused on other events of his era.
"We decided to put the sewer treatment plant at Taylor Point. Some wanted it on Eldred Avenue, so it would be used for the (Jamestown) Shores if needed, but we stuck to our guns. The old Jamestown residents understood, but the newcomers just raised havoc," Tiexiera recounted. "Yes, they stood outside at the windows because there was not much room inside," he acknowledged. He started talking about the council's move to the town library "after my time" but realized he was behind schedule and decided to leave Petit's office.
'Oh, it is truly something to be proud of," Petit concluded about the new town record premises.
Early municipal centers were called town houses and rotated among private offices, homes, and school rooms. Town Houses, as official meeting halls, were first mentioned on North (North Main) Road in 1845. When the second North Road house was destroyed by fire, the town took its offices to a building at Camp Meade, established on the island in 1863. That structure also burned down, and the town moved into "a precut building" with assembly and library rooms, at Four Corners.
The immediate past, and apparently first official Town Hall, was built in 1883 by James Hull, as designed with 2,380 square feet by John Gill, both islanders. It was remodeled several times, with the addition for the town clerk's area built in 1914. The basement was dug under that building in the 1930s.