Heading into the homestretch of 2015, we have new developments on a handful of our Hummel Report investigations: from a moldy charter school in Providence and another twist in the saga at Wickford Junction Train Station to the latest on a troubled bar in Woonsocket. And what about those ugly Jersey Barriers lining the IWay Bridge? Why are they still there? Jim Hummel has the answers.
As we head into the homestretch on 2015 major developments on some of our investigations. We begin with a moldy charter school in Providence that two teachers say made them sick. Well after fighting them for months, the Providence School Department finally agreed and settled with the teaches in August..
The Academy for Career Exploration moved into this long-vacant Catholic school on short notice in the summer of 2014 - after the lease on its home for 15 years across town was not renewed.
The administration acknowledged there were mold problems prior to moving in and spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to fix them. But two teachers assigned to work in the basement said they were sickened by the working conditions almost immediately after school started; so badly they couldn’t come to work, eventually filing a lawsuit because the school denied their request for worker’s compensation. The teachers eventually ran out of sick and vacation time and went without pay the rest of the school year as the school department fought the claim. In August the school department’s lawyer did an about-face, awarding the two teachers back pay and a restoration of the sick time they had to take. They are now both working at other schools in the district.
Despite the negative publicity ACE has seen an increase in enrollment. Last week the school reported having 211 students. That’s up from 182 last year and 173 the year before. The two teachers still have a lawsuit pending against the church that is renting the building to ACE.
For two years Jersey barriers have lined the sides of the IWay Bridge in Providence, after inspectors found defective guardrails. Many of you asked us: why are the ugly barriers still there and what’s going on? So we went D.O.T. to try to some answers.
Lewis: ``It’s safe to operate now, it doesn’t affect the traffic, but we didn’t get what we paid for.’’
That was then -DOT Director Michael Lewis when we questioned him about four sets of Jersey barriers, which had been there nearly a year already after a routine inspection showed problems with the guardrails that line the nine-year-old bridge, the signature piece of the Route 195 relocation project.
Lewis told us the Department and the contractor, Cardi Corporation of Warwick were trying to come up with a game plan to fix the defective guardrails. But more than a year has gone by, the administration has changed and Lewis is out as director.
A spokesman for the D.O.T. issued this statement to The Hummel Report when we asked what was happening last month:
``After two years with the concrete barriers on the bridge, the new leadership at RIDOT refocused the efforts on finding an engineering solution that will bring the railings in compliance with RIDOT and (Federal Highway Administration) standards. Right now FHWA is reviewing the solution, and subsequent to their approval, we will require the contractor to implement the approved plan.’’
The DOT did not offer a timetable for getting it done.
We have reported extensively on the Wickford Junction Train Station and the exorbitant cost to taxpayers to maintain the parking garage. Over the summer the D.O.T. decided to get out of an expensive lease to maintain that garage decided instead to it, itself.
It has cost taxpayers more than half a million dollars every year to maintain this $25- million, 1,100-space garage, opened three years ago and drawing fewer than 100 cars a day. Officials had predicted parking revenues would offset those maintenance costs, but in an effort to encourage ridership stopped charging for parking more than a year ago - putting taxpayers squarely on the hook.
Over the summer the D.O.T. announced it was cancelling a contract with a private company to perform maintenance and will instead do it in-house, predicting a $3.4 million savings over the next decade. What remains to be seen is whether ridership will increase as predicted.
A troubled bar in Woonsocket that has been plagued by problems for months was put on notice by the city council to get its act together. Well this month we go back to find out if any changes have been made.
Rick’s Bar and Grille faced a license suspension and restrictions by the city after its owner appeared before the board of licensing commissioners for a lengthy violation hearing in late June. He faced allegations of underage drinking, fights and a patron pulling a gun. Much of it was caught by a neighbor’s surveillance video.
The owner hired Woonsocket City Councilman Roger Jalette to come in and manage the bar after the board required police details on the weekends through mid-September. But Jalette tells us the owner could not afford to pay him and keep the details so the councilman stopped working there in August.
Police Chief Thomas Carey tells is it has been quiet at the bar, but the neighbor who complained says now that the police details are no longer there, bar traffic has picked up and some of the problems have resumed.
And finally, our story earlier this month on a sprawling junkyard in West Greenwich has finally prompted state officials to do what they’ve been promising the last three years. At a meeting of the minds last week the message was clear: no more delays cleaning it up.
The director of the Department of Business Regulation summoned Norman `Junior’ Carpenter and his lawyers to meet two weeks ago to come up with a game plan to clean up his junkyard, which Carpenter agreed to do beginning three years ago. DBR Director Mackey McCleary did most of the talking at the meeting, according to several people who attended. He said he planned to revisit the property and reconvene everyone for a status update by the end of the month.
But he made it clear he wants to see Carpenter begin doing something substantial, or the state will take action. What that is, McCleary would not say.
And remember, the vast majority of story ideas and tips come from you. So if you have something you think we need to investigate, contact me directly at Jim@HummelReport.org