How will Johnston spend nearly $9 million in ARPA funds?

New DPW, police and fire garages to be built; field improvements pledged


Johnston expects to receive nearly $9 million in federal funding following the pandemic.

How will the town spend the money? The short answer: three large garages and athletics field improvements.

Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena outlined the planned expendtures of Johnston’s share of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds during the last regular Town Council meeting on June 13.

Johnston will be receiving “approximately, $8,809,038.22,” according to Polisena.

“I mean, we should’ve got more, but I guess I’m satisfied with that,” he told Town Council. “We wanted to look at things where we could actually invest in our community. Invest in our infrastructure.”

First, and consuming the majority of the $8.8 million in ARPA funds, newly constructed shelters for the town’s public safety and public works fleet. 

“We’d like to put up three buildings,” Polisena told Town Council. “The first building, obviously would be DPW (Department of Public Works). It’s a 13,600 square foot building which would include sprinklers, heating, electric, lighting and generator, a hot box, and the approximate (cost) is … about $3.5 million.”

Polisena delivered a presentation illustrating the needs for a new DPW garage.

“The reason being, we probably have one of the best fleet of vehicles in the state,” Polisena said. “Thanks to this council approving all the new trucks that we obviously bought. We have a brand new sewer vac truck, as well as a used sewer vac truck, and obviously they have water in it. So to leave it outside is very, very difficult. Because it will freeze. If they have to put it inside, especially during a storm, there really is no place for them to work on the plows. You also have a pump truck that has water in it. Not to mention our street sweepers which are not used in the wintertime.”

The need for DPW vehicle shelter doesn’t stop when the seasons change.

“In the summertime … we have a really a really good cadre of Mac trucks, dump trucks that we like to keep inside,” Polisena explained. “We’ve had issues where mice have gotten under the hood. Eaten through the wires. It happened a couple of times, if I’m not mistaken … Once we get them inside we’ll feel … a lot better. And we’re going to protect, obviously, the vehicles.”

Polisena said the new DPW garage will be built “in the back, you see where the sand pile is … we have a salt shed there … in that general vicinity.” The DPW headquarters is located at 100 Irons Ave.

Polisena and Johnston Fire Chief Peter J. Lamb made the case for a garage to house fire and rescue apparatus.

“The headquarters fire station … it includes 7,000 square feet ... generated heat, electric, lighting … we would keep electrical cords, that will hang down from the ceiling where the trucks have to be plugged in all the time,” Polisena explained.

The new fire garage would be build “on the property behind the Atwood Avenue Fire Station,” according to Polisena, and cost around $1.8million.

“As you know, we’re buying a new ladder truck,” the mayor reminded Town Council.

Town Council approved the purchase of a new ladder truck in April. The new truck will cost about $1.1 million, and replaces a truck purchased only seven years ago, but has been plagued with mechanical problems.

“We want to keep that inside,” Polisena explained. “That and other vehicles; especially our rescues. We keep our reserve rescues inside and they have equipment on them. And the equipment really shouldn’t be outside. Obviously in the cold weather, we keep our extra defibrillators, and medical supplies. And of course, we have extra pumpers, fire trucks. That has 500 gallons of water; and obviously we have to leave the trucks outside, we have to drain all of that water, and it’s kind of a waste of money.”

A similarly sized (and priced) police vehicle garage has also been proposed.

“The Johnston Police Station … we would build them a 7,000 square foot building,” Polisena said. “Which would have heat, electric, lights … at a cost of approximately $1.8 million.”

The Johnston Police Department has a substantial fleet of specialized police vehicles, and a need for long-term storage of vehicles logged in as evidence.

“They have a lot of vehicles, for instance,” Polisena told Town Council. “We have a SWAT vehicle that if it stays outside in the sun, the bulletproof glass is no longer bulletproof.”

“Am I correct chief?” the mayor asked Johnston Police Chief Joseph P. Razza.

“You are correct mayor,” Razza replied.

“And also, once again, the mice got involved in the (police) truck and they ate the wires and destroyed the wires,” Polisena explained. “So we obviously had to have that fixed. Not to mention, they keep … evidence vehicles locked up. And they would also use it for training.”

In all, Polisena estimated the “total costs of all these three projects is $7.1 million.”

A couple million dollars in ARPA cash still remained after the plans for three vehicle fleet garages.

“And then we talked about possibly investing in our children,” Polisena said, regarding the remainder of the ARPA funds. “Absolutely. In our fields.”

“What I’d like to do is we have about $1.8 million to $1.7 million left,” Polisena explained. “We want to buy ‘CONEX’ boxes (steel shipping and storage containers) for all the different … the Little League, the girls Softball, Pee Wee Football … so they’ll have places to keep their equipment.”

Polisena said he has been “working with (Johnston’s) Recreation Director, Chris Correia, who’s here tonight.” Correia was sitting in the audience.

“We’d also like to invest in Kennedy Field,” Polisena said. “We know that Kennedy Field gets flooded constantly, because of the drainage that’s all blocked up. But we have to do something here.”

Polisena said the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management will be implementing new regulations starting July 1 that could make renovations at Kennedy Field difficult, if not impossible.

“DEM is coming out with rules and regulations July 1,” Polisena explained. “That’s going to be really prohibitive. Once again, it’s a bureaucracy with too much power. And they’re really going to tie people’s hands ... They decided they’re going to do it by regulation. They’ve got way too much power as it is now.”

Polisena urged Town Council to help him expedite Kennedy Field repairs.

“So, we’re asking that, I need to get this done ... we have to get this in by July 1,” Polisena warned. “Because after July 1 it’s a whole new set of rules, unless the General Assembly can call in the director of DEM and say, eh eh eh eh, not so fast. So there’s a rush to do this for some reason. I think they hoodwinked the Governor … Anyway, we obviously want to get that field going.”

Polisena also hopes to right a wrong with a portion of the funds.

“One of the things I found out too, I was kind of disappointed, the Johnston Girls Softball team really do not have a field of their own,” Polisena said. “They do not have a regulation field.”

Correia and Polisena identified a potential new home for Johnston girls softball.

“Field 3, mayor,” Correia told Polisena and Town Council.

“We’re going to make that a regulation size softball field,” Polisena said. “Because it’s not fair … the males have their own fields and the females don’t. That’s grossly unfair. So I’d like to get some money, and we’d like to get some help from the parents too. I’d like to give them a regulation sized field with maybe some lights, which would be great. And of course, they would also get a CONEX box.”

Polisena also recommends paying the town’s share of a three-community animal control compact and shared headquarters.

“This board approved our getting together, if you will, consolidation of our animal control offices. Between us, Smithfield and North Providence,” Polisena told Town Council. “There is a cost obviously. We were going to pay by rent; I should say, pay like a mortgage if you will. But I’d like to give them the up-front cost of the $350,000. That’s what Smithfield is doing. After I mentioned that, Smithfield decided to do the same thing … And then all we’ll have to pay for is things like electricity, animal food, whether it’s dog or cat food … I’d rather pay that up front.”

Polisena said the town planned to advertise for bids on the CONEX boxes last week.

“They’re about $6,500 a piece,” Polisena said. “They’re CONEX boxes that have been used one way to store stuff … You will be the ones that are approving. When I come before you, once we it goes out for bid for the buildings, it will have to be approved by the council. You will approve obviously the CONEX boxes, once they go out for bid. I just want to explain to you what we’re doing. … Hopefully we’ll get this going … Especially the Kennedy Field (repairs) before DEM really raise their ugly head.”

Polisena called the nearly $9 million in ARPA funds “a windfall.”

“This is a windfall for us,” he told Town Council and the public. “There’s no doubt about it. And I do thank our Federal Delegation who did get us the money.”


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