RICHMOND — Efforts to submit a detailed application to the state to receive a federal grant for a proposed community center would have required detailed cost estimates and designs that would have been unrealistic to compile in the time available, core members of the board seeking a new direction to make the project a reality.
Despite the challenges, including the short notice to communities that forced the city to pull out of the federal grant application, council chairwoman Nell Carpenter said she feels it’s important the city stays focused. and looks for ways to make the project a reality. better late than never.
For now, however, Council Vice Chairman Jim Palmisciano and Councilman Ronald Newman said they felt moving forward was unrealistic and would put undue pressure on staff, forcing them to spend too much time concentrating on an impossible task.
“I think all options are on the table and this grant does not determine whether we go ahead,” Palmisciano said late last week. “We would just need to look at other sources of funding.”
Board members made the decision to halt a rigorous last-minute grant process at a special meeting late last week. City Administrator Karen Pinch said city officials received an email from the state at 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 1 saying money was available for community center projects in the area. under a federal transfer program, in which federal money is distributed by the state.
The city had previously submitted a letter of intent to the state following a council vote in July to announce that the city was exploring options to develop a community center and was interested in grants available through the state.
Following a meeting on Aug. 2, Pinch asked the board to hold a special meeting on Friday to meet strict deadlines. The problem, she explained at that meeting, is that the city is not far enough along in the planning process to provide the data the state needs to complete the grant application.
“(Financial Director Laura Kenyon) and I are concerned about timing,” Pinch explained during the meeting. “We would need to dedicate our entire week to it, and we still may not be able to do it in a way that would best represent the city of Richmond.”
The city had hoped to take advantage of the opportunity, both Pinch and Kenyon said, but were unaware that the state wanted projects much closer to “pellet ready” at that time. In order to provide the required information requested by the state, the city would need to develop an approximate design to provide a cost estimate. The process involves hiring an outside specialist to develop a reliable estimate.
Pinch said such tasks can be difficult to accomplish in a month, let alone a week that begins with a vacation. Public offices in Rhode Island were closed Monday for the VE Day holiday.
In addition, the city would also have to demonstrate that the center would provide regular health, job training, and public education programs and maintain activities that would serve all three purposes for at least five consecutive years.
“We’re just not at that point in the process yet,” Pinch said.
Carpenter said she wanted to stay focused and said the inability to apply for this grant should not slow down the process, saying she wanted to keep the project moving forward. Palmisciano agreed, saying there is a definite need for a community center in the community and promising to work to find other funding and move the project forward as a board member.
Although the city was unable to qualify for this grant, Kenyon said she believes there will be other opportunities down the road. She said the city has already taken the first steps with council approving the hiring of a social services coordinator, and believes that position may even be the key to the city seeing the community center dream come true.
“The city took the first step when council authorized funding for a social services coordinator, who will be the person to help identify the needs of our community and perhaps even what programs and size of community center are needed,” she said.