Department heads detail capital projectsPlanning Board asks for long-term planning
The Planning Board is concerned that the town is spending money on “band-aid” fixes to its facilities rather than on long-term planning.
This is what board members said at their Tuesday, Nov. 12 work session, at which managers of island facilities presented capital improvement proposals. The Planning Board will use this information to compile a capital budget that will be presented to the Town Council for next year’s budget.
First up was Block Island Health Services (BIHS) Executive Director Barbara Baldwin, who reported on the status of the Block Island Medical Center. She said the house known as the “Doctor's House,” where the Medical Center’s doctor currently lives, is in need of repair. The town owns this property, and BIHS leases it for $1 a year.
“The kitchen in particular is deteriorating and has an extremely awkward layout,” said Baldwin. The kitchen repairs would cost an estimated $24,000, she reported. Baldwin also said other needed improvements to the house include exterior grading to prevent water seepage, and increasing insulation.
As Baldwin reported this, members of the Planning Board noted that most of this building’s needs are repairs, but are not forward-looking.
“What about where it’s going? Right now we’re approaching the problems with the building piecemeal,” said Planning Board member Sven Risom.
“In my business, we call that putting on bandaids,” remarked Planning Board member John Spier, who also runs a construction company.
Risom added that the Town Council plans to form an Infrastructure Committee, which will be asked to inspect all town buildings for needed improvements.
“We don’t have the committee yet,” responded Town Manager Nancy Dodge, but she agreed with Risom. “That whole building [the Doctor's House] needs a whole lot of inspection at some point in time.”
Planning Board member Sam Bird questioned how effective the Infrastructure Committee will be. “I’d love to see it happen and I’d love to see it succeed, but I’m a little apprehensive,” he said. “To do the task that’s before them, that’s a tremendous amount of work.”
Planning Board members also noted that the Town Council had not discussed a long-term capital plan during the summer. The board plans to place a discussion about this matter on a future Planning Board agenda.
Next up was Building Official Marc Tillson, who also oversees the Coast Guard Station. Tillson reported that the Coast Guard Station is in need of many repairs, including interior renovations that could total $450,000. The building is also in need of new insulation, windows, an alarm system and painting, according to Tillson.
Bird remarked that painting should not be included in a capital budget, but is better suited for a maintenance budget. However, the town often budgets painting into its capital budget, reported Dodge.
Planning Board members also repeated the same concerns they had about the Thomas Property for the Coast Guard Station: the capital improvements are not “long-term” enough.
“What are the best uses, the best reasons, for rehabilitating the building,” asked Planning Board Chair Margie Comings. “I can’t see people agreeing to bonding some of these improvements if we don’t have some answer on how to use this space better.”
The station is used for town employee housing in the summer, and Tillson lives there year-round.
Last, for this session, the Planning Board also heard from Library Director Kristin Baumann, who said the library could use a new book drop. She said the front door book drop is broken, and also does not comply with Rhode Island security requirements because it provides an opening to the building. A new one costs about $6,500, according to Baumann. Baumann also said there is a need for new carpeting at the library, as the current carpeting is original to the facility and is 16 years old.
The Planning Board will hear from other town department heads at future meetings.