2018-02-15 / Front Page

Council approves Fort Getty architect, urges transparency

BY TIM RIEL

Following the elimination of 15 campsites in December 2012, there has been a peaceful hiatus from major debate involving Fort Getty.

A council meeting last week, however, could be a sign the silence will be interrupted in 2018.

“It’s the third rail,” Councilwoman Mary Meagher quipped about the 41-acre park.

During a Feb. 5 meeting, Andy Wade, recreation director, sought approval from the town council to hire an architectural firm to design a gatehouse for the entrance. While the councilors unanimously endorsed the $18,000 bid from Union Studio, their blessing was delivered alongside cautionary advice. Meagher, who recommended a stakeholder committee to vet the design, said Wade should tread carefully when discussing the park.

“When you start to set these very first steps, you’ve set the path,” Meagher said.

Councilman Blake Dickinson agreed with his colleague. “We need to be sensitive to the work we’ve already done,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s our baby, but we put a lot of time into it.”

Wade was given the nod in November to solicit bids for an architectural firm to complete blueprints to replace the gatehouse and lower restrooms. While Wade agreed with Meagher that overhauling the park needs to be a transparent public process, he said those two facilities were in dire conditions. He told Meagher he did not consider a building committee for these preliminary steps.

“We have a couple things that need to be addressed sooner rather than later,” Wade said. “It would give us that initial facelift to what we’re going to be able to do inside Fort Getty. It’s a great place to start. From that, it can be a building block to that larger overhaul.”

Meagher, however, said setting the stage before inviting public participation could be a misstep. That’s because there are certain taxpayers who are interested in every stage.

“I can hand you 500 signatures that ask for that process,” she said, referring to a 2011 petition that requested more say in the council’s decisions regarding Fort Getty.

The bid by Union Studio, which is led by Jamestown architect Don Powers, indicates a pre-design phase, which consists of “due diligence, information gathering, input from owner and stakeholders.”

The request marks that phase complete. Meagher, however, was lukewarm on whether that step was accomplished. She recommended Wade work simultaneously with stakeholders and Powers during the design stage.

Wade hopes to have a scheme for the councilors to review in April. If that plan gets the go-ahead, the town would solicit bids for a contractor. Ideally, Wade wants work to begin in late summer and continue into the fall. Although Meagher is doubtful about construction during camping season, Wade said work can be done without aggravating visitors.

“We can survive using the other restrooms,” he said.

Following the gatehouse and lower restrooms, Town Administrator Andy Nota expects the Fort Getty debate to expand significantly, including the upper restrooms that need to be replaced. Also, there is no public consensus on the future of the dilapidated pier, which could cost seven figures to replace.

Other suggestions in the pipeline include a composting bathroom at the entrance, a storage shed, public meeting space for community groups and nonprofits, like the Conanicut Island Sailing Foundation, and a smaller structure on the hill behind the pavilion. While the items on this wish list have crossed Nota’s desk, he said they will be thoroughly vetted before any decisions was made.

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