July 13, 2024

Monthly News Briefs

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MetLinks 9 Hole Golf Course Opens
After years of preparation, planning and some protests from a group of residents, the transformation of the former Metacomet Country Club has begun to take shape.  A ribbon cutting ceremony was held on Tuesday, June 25, 2024, to commemorate the official opening of MetLinks, a 9-hole golf course on the site of the former golf club.  “After reviewing the initial plans of Marshall Properties, the (former) council asked and received a compromise proposal for the over 100 plus acre site,” said City Council President Bob Rodericks. In an initial meeting with Marshall Properties, City Council members Nate Cahoon and Bob Rodericks sought a compromise solution.  The then council rejected the notion of Eminent Domain which would cost many millions of dollars and provide for no tax revenue.  “Mr. Cahoon and I asked that  property buffers and open public space be involved in the plan.  I specifically asked if some kind of golf course could remain.  Marshall took our ideas and said they would report back to us,” said Rodericks. “They were also very willing to canvass the neighborhood which they did.”

Marshall came back with the plan which essentially exists today.  The proposal will give the City approximately 79 acres of “Open Space exclusive of the Watchemoket Cove.”  They have also gifted 9 other acres along Fort and Lyon avenues and this includes a public 9-hole golf course.  Marshall will maintain the golf course and it will be legally restricted for use as only golf/open space forever.  The EPHS golf team will be allowed free use of the course and EP residents will receive a discounted green fee rate to use the course.  The plan will also include a variety of residential units, shops and businesses. There would be no general merchandise/retail store over 30,000 square feet.  No hotel will be included. The plan also prohibits stores like Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, BJ’s, etc.  The size limitation does not apply to a grocery store.

The new golf course, originally designed by renowned golf architect Donald Ross, has been renovated and restored by Marshall Properties and local golf course architect, Robert McNeil of the Northeast Golf Company. The course’s Ross-inspired layout features seven original greens from the front nine and incorporates two additional greens. “Met Links offers beautiful elevation changes, wonderful vistas and spectacular conditions, providing a unique experience for golfers of all ages and skill levels,” said a Marshall press release at the ceremony.       

The ribbon cutting ceremony joined Marshall Properties, with Mayor Bob DaSilva, Senator Robert Britto, Councilman Rick Lawson, community leaders and golf enthusiasts and officially opened the highly anticipated public golf course called Met Links. The event marked the transformation of the former Metacomet Country Club into a par-34, nine-hole course that will now be open to the public.

The former Metacomet was never opened to the general public and its private membership had difficulties in meeting expenses before then owner Brad Faxon decided to sell.  Faxon’s plans for rejuvenating the private club never materialized and he sold the property to Marshall Properties in a private sale.

“I’m pleased to see that as part of the development of the Metacomet, a public 9-hole golf course is being retained where members of our community who once were unable to play on this property without being a member can now enjoy the natural beauty of the Met Links,” Mayor Bob DaSilva said.

“This is a very exciting day for East Providence and the golf community in Rhode Island as we officially celebrate the return of golf to this historic property,” said Lianne Marshall, co-owner of Marshall Properties, Inc. “Met Links delivers an exceptional golfing experience that honors the rich history of the property while showcasing the beauty of East Providence. We are thrilled to finally welcome the public to play the course.”

“The rich history of golf architecture which rests within the Metacomet property is undeniable. It is with profound respect for Donald Ross’ work and careful study of the design’s intent that Met Links has been created for all to enjoy,” said Robert McNeil, Golf Architect at Met Links.

The opening of Met Links is the result of collaborative efforts between Marshall Properties, NMP Golf Construction, Northeast Golf Company/Club9 Golf Management and golf superintendent Paul Jamrog.  Met Links will offer a variety of amenities including a Pro Shop featuring merchandise and golf essentials, golf carts, and a putting green.  Met Links will be open daily with tee times available from 6:30 a.m.to 6:00 p.m. throughout the season. Players can book their tee times online at www.MetLinksGolf.com or by calling the Pro Shop directly at (401) 414-7337. Special discounted rates are available for East Providence residents.  For additional information or inquiries about league play, outings, and special events, please contact Met Links’ on-site customer service team at (401) 414-7337 or visit MetLinksGolf.com.

“The transformation of Metacomet is an example of a compromise solution in the best interest of all parties,” added Rodericks.  “The bottom line is that this was a private sale with no initial control of city government.  I am grateful that we saved about half of this formerly private country club as green and open space.  Golf remains, neighborhood buffers and needed housing along with a small business base, will all add to the city tax revenue.  Similar to what was done when Crescent Park closed in 1978, a compromise solution has worked.”

School Boss’ Contract Extended with Board Silence

Facilities Director facing dismissal
The East Providence School Committee met on June 18 to discuss the future of School Superintendent Dr. Sandra Forand and other school administrators.  The committee met in a closed session for almost three hours before convening in public.  Forand is just completing her second year as Superintendent. The matter at hand was the employment contract of Forand which has an industry standard clause stating that absent written notice at the end of year two, she will automatically receive an additional year.  Complicating matters is the fact that some teacher union leaders are at issue with some of Forand’s decisions. As discussions ensued about Forand’s future between teachers and the public at large, the official School Committee meeting agenda listed one ominous item among several.  It stated, "Consider & Vote to Inform Superintendent of Intent Not to Extend Contract."  As concern went up throughout East Providence, supporters of Dr. Forand wrote letters of support and attended the meeting.

At about the two-hour mark of the private session (allowed by law to discuss personnel) Forand emerged and took her place at the meeting table.  The committee remained in executive session.  As Forand took her seat, those in attendance - mostly teachers – gave Forand a prolonged applause amid shouts of encouragement.  Forand, without comment, quietly acknowledged their support.  Close to 50 teachers along with a few administrators and residents were present.  Normal attendance at school committee meetings is one or two people.

The high school auditorium quieted as the committee returned to public session.  The question of not renewing the Superintendent’s contract was listed as number 21, last on the docket.  Ward 4 member Jessica Beauchaine, after a period of silence from the board, moved to take up Number 21 as their first order of business.  School Committee Chair Jenni Furtado asked three times for a motion on the Forand contract.  Each time there was no response from the committee.  The lack of any motion meant that the item essentially failed and Forand was granted a one-year extension automatically.  Those in the audience then stood and gave Forand another prolonged ovation.

While it was recognized that Forand’s contract was extended, almost by osmosis, some veteran observers and Forand supporters lamented the fact that no board member commented at all.  “They could have made a motion to extend the contract or at least have said something in support or encouragement of Sandy.”

While the matter was settled for the time, a few people addressed the board anyway.  First to speak was City Council President Bob Rodericks.  “As a lifelong resident, a proud ’72 EP Grad, former School Committee Chair, a volunteer for many local groups and a 30-year career in the school dept working with families, and now a City Councilman, I believe I know our city well.  Not renewing this Superintendent’s contract is a bad idea,” he said.  “Those of you thinking of not renewing Dr Forand either forgot or don’t know of the period of dark days our schools had.  The prior hiring of some admins that did not have our best interest at heart almost ruined us.  Good people were let go or left the system.  Townie Pride was damaged but has been coming back.  If Forand goes, who will you bring here?  Not many with the proper experience are left.  Remember our past.”

High school Principal Bill Black also spoke about his support for Forand and the entire administrative team.  “We need consistency with our administration,” said Black as he supported the keeping of the staff intact. We are like a family, working hard. Please do what's right tonight and keep this team together," implored Black.  For her part, Forand declined to say much after the meeting.  “I’m committed to working together for all in our community.”

One member of the administrative family did not get renewed.  Facilities Director Christopher Murphy’s contract was not supported, and his last day was to be June 30, 2024, unless something changes.  Murphy had reportedly been the target of complaints from members of the custodian and teacher unions.

City Community Center Back on Track
The muddled process of building a Community or Recreation Center is seemingly back on track after the June 25th City Council meeting.  The council has in essence reversed its reversal of an initial unanimous vote in support of the Mayor’s proposed center at the Senior Center grounds.  In a long simmering discord between some of the council and the Mayor, there was an 11th hour attempt to use the closed Oldham School in Riverside as the new center.  The dispute was mainly between Mayor DaSilva and Riverside councilman Rick Lawson.  The first reversal was supported by Lawson and council members Anna Sousa and Frank Rego.  Council President Bob Rodericks and Ward Three councilman Frank Fogarty voted against the “first reversal.”  However, the council at its June 25th meeting agreed to reconsider the transfer of funds to Oldham School and the project is now back on track at the originally planned senior center site.  The condemned Oldham building (as a school) will revert to its originally planned rehabilitation as a business incubator, like the Hope & Main in Warren and also some recreational and community use.  The June 25th meeting vote was 4-0 to return to the Mayor’s original plan.  Rodericks could not attend this meeting tending to a family illness.  

The Mayor and Council have about $11 million to spend on the all-purpose community center.  Federal and state grants will provide $8 million and $3 million will be council appropriated ARPA (American Rescue Plan) funding.  “That is all I will vote for.  Soft costs or overruns will not get my support right away,” said Lawson.  No direct local tax or budget monies are slated for the project’s construction.

Henderson Bridge Project to receive $25M from USDOT

Grant will be for phase two of the project
The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has announced that Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) will receive $25 million for phase two of the Henderson Bridge project.  In a USDOT June 26th press release, it was announced that the funding will come from the federal Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity Raise (RAISE) grant program.  According to the USDOT, the “Henderson Bridge was declared structurally deficient in 1996, the first year that RIDOT started keeping records. RIDOT has rebuilt it using federal funds. The total cost for this project is $84.4 million.”

Henderson is a 26-span steel girder structure spanning 2,000 feet over the Seekonk River. It carries 20,000 vehicles per day and connects the cities of Providence and East Providence.  “The bridge was over built. RIDOT built a narrower structure with two lanes of traffic westbound and one lane eastbound,” writes the DOT.

“Receiving this latest RAISE grant is an important step forward for the Henderson Bridge and Expressway project and will make travel safer and more efficient for commuters in Rhode Island,” said Governor McKee in a statement to area news outlets.  “Improving our roads and bridges is the key to our state’s economic success and job growth. I want to thank our Congressional Delegation for yet again delivering critical funding to help upgrade Rhode Island’s infrastructure,” McKee added.

According to the USDOT release, the $25 million grant will allow RIDOT to begin construction that would transform the freeway into a complete street with a lower design speed and a separate, shared-use path for non-motorized transit.  Separated bike and pedestrian infrastructure would enhance connectivity to the East Bay Bike Path and the Blackstone River Bikeway, which serve thousands each year.

This project will convert Henderson Parkway into a low-speed facility and includes non-motorized facilities, as well as demolish an existing bridge, loop ramp, and approximately two traffic signals. The project will also construct a roundabout, approximately two miles of non-motorized facilities, and approximately two scenic overlooks on the Henderson Bridge over the Seekonk River. Project Benefits: Safety will be addressed by protecting non-motorized travelers from safety risks by adding two miles of dedicated, separated multi-use paths.

Additionally, the project will incorporate actions from the National Roadway Safety Strategy, such as converting a major expressway into a complete street along with traffic calming measures. Quality of Life will be addressed by increasing affordable transportation choices and implementing transit-oriented development with targeted goals for affordable housing near transit areas. Mobility and Community Connectivity will be addressed by directly supporting multimodal transportation options, including transit connections along several critical transit routes and connections to both Amtrak and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) commuter rail systems.

Local Residents Named to RI State Police
Several East Providence recent or current residents were sworn in as new Rhode Island State Troopers in a ceremony at CCRI in Lincoln, RI on Friday, June 21st.  In total there were twenty-nine Troopers graduating from the State Police Training Academy.  Colonel Darnell S. Weaver, State Police Superintendent addressed the Class of 2024 and said, “Service in the Rhode Island State Police is not merely a job; it is a calling that demands the highest standards of excellence. May your careers be long, fulfilling, and marked by the continued pursuit of excellence. Serve with pride, dedication, and always with the knowledge that you are making a positive impact.”  New state troopers include Jaren Alves, James McGuire, Noel Miranda, Kyle Murphy and Joseph Rego.

Artists Sought for Public Murals on Utility Boxes
At the suggestion of Councilwoman Anna Sousa, Mayor DaSilva and the Department of Planning and Economic Development, in partnership with the East Providence Arts Council are calling on artists to submit design proposals to paint public art murals on municipal utility boxes. A total of six utility boxes will be painted for the 2024 program, located in Riverside, Rumford, and the center of the City.

In November of 2023, Ward Two Councilwoman Anna Sousa introduced a resolution “authorizing the East Providence Arts Council to carry out the citywide utility box art project.”  Sousa proposed using up to $50,000 of ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding for this purpose.

Inspired by similar successful programs in Pawtucket, Cranston, and Providence, the goal of the Beautility Box Mural Program is to enhance East Providence neighborhoods, enhance the streetscape, and showcase the talent of local artists.

“The City has worked in partnership with the East Providence Arts Council on a number of public art projects in recent years, including the Bloomberg Philanthropies Asphalt Art Initiative (painted crosswalks) at Hennessey Elementary School, the Lantern Art Trail Displays, The Feathers Three sculpture and the Pokanoket Mural at Watchemoket Square,” states a press release from City administration. 

“We are thrilled to open up participation to members of our community in our continuing efforts to beautify East Providence and make it one of the best places to live, learn, work and play,” Mayor Bob DaSilva said. “Public art is essential to enriching our city and community, while also supporting our creatives’ talents and artwork in our community.”

Local artists based in Rhode Island and Massachusetts are eligible to apply, while artists who live in or have a permanent office or studio space in East Providence will be given special consideration. To apply, artists must be 18 years or older, and all artists may submit up to three designs for consideration.  Selected artists will receive a $900 stipend for the labor and the cost of materials required to complete their artwork. The first $300 installation will be paid upon award of the project and entering into a contract with the City. The remaining installation of $600 will be paid upon completion of the mural.

For additional information including design guidelines, the selection panel, and where to apply you can find that all on the City of East Providence website. https://eastprovidenceri.gov/rfp 

$25,000 Grants Support Eight Cultural Feasts in EP
Governor Dan McKee and Secretary of Commerce Liz Tanner announced the recipients of new mini grant awards under the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation’s Placemaking Initiative.

The RI Rebounds Placemaking Initiative is a statewide effort to support businesses in the tourism and hospitality industries. The mini grants, approved by the RI Commerce Corporation’s Board of Directors on June 10, will fund activities, events, and programs, aimed at attracting visitors and are held outdoors, or in public spaces, during the summer months.

“We are proud to announce these awards for events which celebrate Rhode Island’s rich history, arts, and culture.” said Governor Dan McKee. “We know that when we bring people together in communities across the state, we showcase all that makes the Ocean State so great and empower our cities and towns to succeed.”

“These grants are an investment in keeping our communities vibrant, providing Rhode Islanders and visitors opportunities to come together and experience the best our state has to offer,” said Secretary of Commerce Liz Tanner.  The announcement includes awards that directly support events and programming in the City of East Providence.

“We are excited to be a recipient of these Placemaking Initiative grant awards,” Mayor Bob DaSilva said. “Thank you to our Governor Dan McKee and Secretary of Commerce Liz Tanner for their continued support. Since day one of the Washington Bridge closure, we have fought to support our city by any means necessary and that includes both our businesses and the people who call East Providence home. The funding from these grants continues to enrich our community’s heritage, history and culture.”  The 8 events will occur between May – October 2024.

Congressman Gabe Amo in EP last month
Congressman Gabe Amo welcomed Committee on Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Ranking Member John Larson to the East Providence Senior Center late last month.  They were discussing support for the Social Security 2100 Act (H.R.4583), a landmark piece of legislation that would protect and expand essential earned Social Security benefits for millions of Americans across the country. Both congressmen highlighted how the legislation will increase benefits by 2% across the board — the first increase in more than 50 years — as well as end the five-month waiting period to receive disability benefits. At the event, the congressmen were joined by East Providence Mayor Bob DaSilva.

“Social Security is a critical economic lifeline for millions of Americans, including 113,000 recipients in Rhode Island’s First District,” said Congressman Gabe Amo. “Even before I was sworn in, the first bill I promised to cosponsor was Congressman Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act, a landmark bill that would guarantee dignity in retirement for our nation’s seniors. IIn the face of relentless Republican attacks that would slash Social Security benefits, we must pass this legislation to bolster benefits and protect the promise of Social Security for generations to come.”

“I would like to thank Rep. Amo for inviting me to East Providence to speak to discuss the urgent need to protect and enhance Social Security as 10,000 baby boomers become eligible every day,” said Congressman John Larson. “Social Security 2100 would enhance benefits for the first time in more than 50 years, repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset that penalizes our public servants and deliver a tax cut for 23 million Americans. I am glad to stand with leaders like Rep. Amo as we continue to oppose Republicans’ attempts to force through disastrous cuts and work to protect Americans’ hard-earned benefits. It’s time for Congress to vote!”

“We are honored to host Congressmen John Larson and Gabe Amo at the East Providence Senior Center to discuss legislation for broadening and expanding Social Security for our senior population,” Mayor Bob DaSilva said. “I stand behind any legislation that will benefit our seniors’ quality of life and care.”

“I was unable to join with Congressman Amo at the Senior Center but I appreciate that our Congressman has visited East Providence several times since his election to Congress,” said City Council President Bob Rodericks.  “The congressman did have breakfast with myself and my colleagues Councilman Rego and Councilman Lawson the next day.  We discussed important local issues and supported EP Restaurant Week at the same time,” said Rodericks.

EP’s Dave Torti Retires from Ceasar’s Palace
As of June 26th, after 33 years as head of audio at Caesars Palace, one of only two guys since the doors opened in 1966, East Providence native Dave Torti is stepping down.  “It's been a long and rewarding time at Caesars, from the original Circus Maximus Showroom for 10 years and its' demise in 2001, to the Colosseum Theater, built for the spectacular Celine Dion's "A New Day". I've worked with so many great artists and crews over these years, too many to list, but you know who you are,” said Torti in a recent post.  I'll be keeping an eye on Mom and spending my summers in Rhode Island with her, family, and friends. Winters will be here in Las Vegas, and I'll be still working a little at Caesars being the best assistant audio guy I can,” he added.

Torti has worked with many great artists and crews over the years, “too many to list here.  I have treasured the special bond I developed with them all.  I've traveled all over the world for work, even before my gig at Caesars, mixing sound for various acts, all the time pinching myself, thinking what's a kid from RI doing here?”  Throughout his career Torti would visit Rhode Island often, especially East Providence.  “I always knew that the people back home supported me. Whether it was my family or close friends, or my induction into the EPHS Hall of Fame, every time I returned home, they would always want to hear about my latest trip or act I was working for. Great to know you can always return home to EP, and that's what I intend to do every summer from now on, so hopefully I'll see some of you in those familiar places.  I love East Providence and will always call it home.  Retirement is when you stop living at work and begin working at living," smiled Torti. 

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