2007-09-27 / Front Page

Town Hall will open for business next week

By Dotti Farrington

A pre-opening tour of the new town hall on Monday showed a typical work-in-progress construction scene- with sawdust being vacuumed and signs of incompleteness. Dust aside, it is hard to miss the excitement of town workers and island residents welcoming the new facilities.

A pristine 10,400-square-foot complex of offices has been appended to the renovated old town hall, of nearly 2,400 square feet, to create a spacious town council meeting room for 100 people.

The new municipal center, with white exterior and green window sashes, was opened to the public for viewing last month, without concern about unpainted walls, hanging wires and assorted unfinished sections, as part of the town's celebration of the 350th anniversary of its purchase by colonists from the Narragansett Indians, whose relics continue to be unearthed on the island.

Since that time, the cupola, a memorial gift from contractors Richard and Ronald Pezzuco of Cranston, atop the old town hall section, has been completed. It is a replica of the cupola, the quadrilateral-shaped 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, which was used as the public works workshop when the town barn was next to the Narragansett municipal building.

The interior of the new complex has been painted, featuring brown tones for trim, as well as flooring, and peach, soft blue and gentle green and a bit of white on walls in various offices. Restrooms have attractive fabric wall coverings.

The new town hall will be opened next Thursday, Oct. 4, for town employees to serve residents in need of public records and municipal services in an environment promising to be the focus of much oohing and aahing, as well as promised unprecedented efficiency and ease of navigation, and especially secure record storage.

Town Hall visitors, whether just looking or actually seeking services, will enter through double glass doors whether they approach from the front Narragansett Avenue entrance, for which drivers will vie for limited on-street parking; or from the greatly expanded West Street parking area in the rear of the complex. The parking was extended from the rear of the town property onto the rear of the abutting St. Matthew's Church, as part of a cooperative neighborhood sharing arrangement.

The Narragansett way has been transformed from a three-step approach to the original 1883 town hall, to a gently sloping sidewalk, with a brick platform in front of the council chambers. A gold-topped flagpole, encircled by a stone wall is just the right height for sitting. The West Street pre-entry way features a patio with outdoor seating.

Using the Narragansett approach, town customers will come immediately to the area for the town clerk, where incumbent Arlene Petit will oversee the handling of all land, vital statistic and municipal action records. Approaching from West Street, visitors will cross the corridor past rest rooms, another town office suite, the maintenance stall, a staff room and a section for land record users before reaching the central town clerk's area.

In the corridor across from the town clerk's area is the elevator to the second floor where the town administrator has an executive suite in the front of the building, and several municipal officials, as well as pubic works with its water and sewer department responsibilities, are located in the rear of the second level.

New furniture for the offices was being delivered there this week.

As of Monday's preview, provisions for historic memorabilia display and for rotating exhibits of local art, were still to be completed. No plans were being made to show off the accommodations of the full basement for record and historic item vaults and general storage.

In preparation for occupation of the new town hall, the temporary town hall, located the past year at the municipal golf course building, will be closed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, as workers move their papers and themselves into the new Town Hall complex. Town offices at Southwest Avenue will be open three days next week for limited business, and then close forever after Thursday.

William Burgin, a Jamestown resident, is the Newport-based, award-winning architect who designed the town hall complex. Town Administrator Bruce Keiser reported that the town and contractor kept costs within the voter approved $3 million budget.

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.

Offices to operate out of the new town hall are: Town Clerk, Probate, Canvassers, Planning, Tax Assessor, Building and Zoning, Harbor, Finance, Tax Collector, Water and Sewer, Public Works, Town Engineer and Town Administration.

After the relocation, all departments can be reached by calling 423-7200.

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