It was a year ago that City Hall staffers entered the Annex to discover water pouring from the ceiling of the first floor assessor’s office. During the weekend, when temperatures dipped into the single digits, a pipe had burst in the second floor planning department. There was no way that either the planning department or the assessor and tax collection offices could open.
Within days, former mayor Scott Avedisian closed all the offices in the Annex, relocating them to the former Greene School on Draper Avenue next to the former Gorton Junior High School. The exception was the tax collector that set up in the City Hall basement conference room. Since then, it, too, has found a home at “Draper,” as the annex offices have been dubbed.
Meanwhile, no effort has been made to reopen the Annex and, in an interview last week, Mayor Joseph Solomon not only made it clear the building should be razed but that he also believes the Rhode Island Interlocal Risk Management Trust that insures the building should pay for its replacement. He’s ready to bring suit unless that happens.
“Not only will they not pay what they agreed does exist there,” Solomon said, adding that the trust won’t expedite the process. “So we’re about to file suit against them.”
Asked what the trust had offered to settle the claim, Solomon recalled it was $300,000. He believes it should be significantly more. He pointed out that the city hired a structural engineer to assess the damage.
“That report came back and said the building was toast. Its beams are cracked, it has unsafe weight limits on floors. There’s a lot of things done to that building that should not have been. Heating systems between floors. Those are not code items. People could be killed in environments like that.”
Executive director of the Trust Ian Ridlon pointed out Monday that Warwick is one of the founding members of the trust 30 years ago and that the trust has paid multiple Warwick claims over the years. He would not discuss any specifics of talks with Warwick.
“We are working in good faith to resolve the matter,” he said.
Solomon doesn’t see it that way.
“All my life when I’ve dealt with insurance companies, they’ve always initially denied. They want to see how far they can push you to compromise your claim. Almost like a nuisance value to see how far you’re going to fight. And we’re going to fight to the end, because it’s a significant amount of money,” he said. “We’ve paid the premiums over the years, we’ve been a good participant of the Trust and we’ve been a good partner with the Trust. We expect to be afforded the benefits that the Trust has under their policy to us. There’s nothing of a fraudulent nature – it happened – it was an accident and we know it happened.”
Solomon said the building is “structurally toast” and he put the city’s claim between $3 million to $4 million.
“When you insure a structure, you insure a structure overall, that’s the way I look at it. Whether it be your house or your business…They’ll give you a contingent premium until they inspect the building and see if they want to insure it or if it’s insurable…They’ve taken our premiums for years. So you can’t say ‘I quit.’ The taxpayers are entitled to the benefits,” he said.
Whether the parties reach a settlement, or the matter ends up in court, it’s going to be a long time before municipal offices have a permanent home.
As an interim step to a new annex that presumably would be built on the site of the old one, Solomon is eying the former Buttonwoods Community Center that Avedisian closed because of a leaking roof and renovation costs. Avedisian had planned on selling the property, but Ward 7 Councilman Steve McAllister vowed to do what he could to reopen it. The council unanimously approved a resolution to save the center and, after being named mayor, Solomon took steps to reopen it. A roofing company donated its services to repair the roof, and the heating and air condition systems have since also been repaired.
Solomon said he wants to move the annex offices at Greene to Buttonwoods as well as reopen a portion of the center to groups that used to regularly meet there to play cards.
“I am on that, pedal to the metal,” he said. “I want to get our employees out of Draper. I want to see our elderly folk back in that facility,” he said.
Is there the space for all the departments now located at Greene?
“I am really planning for every department to go there,” he said. He added the city might have to break out a couple of departments, such as personnel, that he feels should be segregated from other departments.
He didn’t offer a timetable for the move to Buttonwoods.