2014-10-23 / Around Town

Newport Voters Asked to OK $6 Million in Repair Bonds

By Tom Walsh

Newport voters will decide on Nov. 4 whether to authorize the city to issue $6 million in bonds to significantly repair five prominent municipal structures over the next two years.

Some of these repairs are needed to address shortcomings under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that sets standards to ensure that individuals with disabilities have access to public buildings. The city and the U.S. Justice Department reached a settlement on these matters in September, 2010.

“We haven’t allocated the money in the budget to do this,” said City Councilor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano. “In a lot of peoples’ minds, we’ve been dragging our feet on this. I want to get it done.”

The City Council voted 6-1 on May 28 to secure funding for these issues through the general election ballot. Voters will find the issue as Question 8 among the local referendums.

The five structures to be improved if voters give their OK are:

. Newport City Hall

. Rogers High School

. Toppa Field

. Newport Public Library

. Edward King House

City Hall requires numerous structural repairs to satisfy the terms of the Justice Department settlement. The price tag for that, as well as the other projects, is about $1 million each. The $6 million would also cover potential cost overruns.

“It’s important that we ensure the safety of the building,” Napolitano said. “And we need to meet the Justice Department ruling under that decree.” City Hall repairs will include necessary work to the building’s elevator that will enable those confined to wheelchairs to gain access to upper floors.

Because of these conditions, the City Council and other municipal panels such as the Historic District Commission and the Zoning Board of Review no longer meet at City Hall. The Council currently meets at the new Pell Elementary School. Prior to that, the panel has met at the Newport Public Library and at the Edward King House.

“It’s important that we upgrade City Hall so that people can go to the place where they would normally go for the seat of city government,” Napolitano said. “The only good thing coming out of all this is that people have had a reason to see the new school.”

Rogers High School will get badly needed roof repairs if voters approve Question 8. Grandstand seating at Toppa Field is in “deplorable” condition and must be fixed, Napolitano said, adding that restrooms there must be repaired to meet ADA standards. “This is an important facility,” she said. “All of the schools use it.”

The Newport Public Library has a leaky roof and also badly needs exterior improvements. The Edward King House, which houses the city’s senior center, needs exterior renovations. Additionally, the King House badly needs more space and some of the bond money would go to renovate the building’s third floor that is not currently used.

At its regular meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 22, City Council unanimously approved a resolution expressing its support for Question 8. The measure stated, “It is important that the information about Question 8 be communicated to the residents of Newport.”

The resolution further said, “The City Council expresses its strong support of Question 8 and encourages the voters of Newport to approve it; and the City Manager is directed to ensure that information concerning Question 8 is communicated to the residents of Newport. “

Asked about that provision, Napolitano said, “We are going to do some advertising.” She thought that would include banners at City Hall, Edward King House and the library urging support for Question 8.

At-large Councilor Naomi Neville added, “Some of the cost estimates are coming in less than expected, so we may not need to use all of the $6 million.”

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