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National Guard offers its building to city

January 6, 2012

Rhode Island National Guard master planner David Mello, left, points out the former repair garage on Avenue A to Michael Asselin, Woonsocket Water Transmission District Supervisor, at the facility Friday. The Rhode Island National Guard is offering to donate the building to the City of Woonsocket. Photo/Ernest A. Brown

WOONSOCKET – The Rhode Island Army National Guard is offering to turn over to the city a cavernous brick garage, situated on nearly an acre of land, for the nominal price of a buck.
After touring the site with representatives of the Guard Friday, Planning Director Paulette Miller said the city is leaning in favor of accepting the offer, but it wants to make sure the building on Avenue A is structurally sound first.
“It appears to be an appropriate acquisition,” said Miller. “But we’ll be making another pass through here with our engineers before we make a decision.”
Sandwiched between a factory where exercise equipment is built and Globe Park Elementary School, the building has been vacant for roughly four years, said Guard Master Planner David Mello.
Until recently, there were two similar garages on the site, including a storage facility that was torn down because of structural deterioration. The existing garage appears sound enough and had long been used by the Guard for repairing military vehicles, said Mello.
The Guard built the structures shortly after acquiring the land in 1948, said Mello. The land was donated to the Guard by the city, and now that the Guard has no use for the property, it simply wants to give the property back.
“We could have gone right to the state and turned it over to them and they would have taken it,” said Mello. “We thought it should be offered to the city first.”
Mello said the Guard commissioned an independent environmental assessment of the site last year which resulted in a clean bill of health for the property. Mello said four underground fuel tanks were removed from the site after the assessment, and the soil around the tanks proved to be pollution-free.
Mayor Leo T. Fontaine said the city might use the building to garage the fleet of trucks used by the Water Department’s road crews. Currently, the vehicles are housed in the headquarters of the long-defunct municipal trash incinerator on Cumberland Hill Road, a deteriorating eyesore whose days may be numbered.
The environmental condition of the Guard site appears to be satisfactory, said Fontaine, but the city still wants to take a closer look at it before accepting the offer.
“Obviously we don’t want to take on something that’s a liability to us,” the mayor said.
The Guard says just the land is worth over $107,000. As military property, it’s tax exempt, so the proposed transfer would be a revenue wash for the city, the mayor noted.
Michael Asselin, the water transmission distribution superintendent, says the water department is sorely in need of a new location to park its trucks. The old incinerator was already in rough shape when the water department moved in several years ago, but the structure took a beating from Hurricane Irene this summer.
“It’s falling apart,” said Asselin. “Half the roof is gone.”
With about 500 square feet of floor space on one level, the garage appears to be roomy enough to park the 10 vehicles that are now housed at the incinerator.
If all goes according to plan, Mello said he would prepare a memorandum of agreement allowing the Guard to convey the property to the city for $1. He said the State Properties Commission would have to approve the deal.

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