PROVIDENCE – Have you ever wondered what happens when recreational bond funds are approved by voters at the ballot box? A little-known state committee plays a large role in deciding which projects to fund.
In mid-May, state officials announced more than $4 million in matching grants for recreational projects statewide. The funds flow into 16 projects in 13 municipalities to renovate or build new leisure facilities. The money came from a Beach, Clean Water and Green Bond that voters passed last year.
Projects to be funded include $400,000 to improve the playground at Jenks Park in Central Falls; $400,000 to revitalize Knightsville Park in Cranston; and $312,500 to the City of Woonsocket to acquire 1.37 acres adjacent to Silvestri Pond.
Funding varied from $400,000 to $72,000. Municipalities must pool the funds to receive a grant.
“Investing in recreational facilities brings our communities together and is essential to both physical and mental health and well-being,” Gov. Dan McKee said in a news release.
The approved projects received the recommendation of a relatively unknown government committee, the Recreation Resources Review Committee (RRRC). The body is described as an advisory committee reporting to the Rhode Island Division of Statewide Planning and has no public meetings or committee members listed on the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s website.
A membership list provided to ecoRI by the Rhode Island Department of Environment (DEM) shows a committee composed of state planners, employees of the local Department of Recreation, a city planner and two general members of the public.
The committee evaluates projects under the specific rubric set forth in DEM’s Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP). The plan, last revised in 2019 and in effect until 2024, sets out the minimum recommendations RRRC can make. The committee must consider funding in two categories: acquisition of new land and construction of new outdoor recreation facilities or renovation of existing facilities. Proposals are recommended for funding in order of their final score within the available funding in each category. The RRRC recommends funding proposals by voting and forwards them to the Director of DEM, who can then adjust them.
An applicant’s projects are evaluated based on need, habitat preservation, applicant priority, equity, economic revitalization, government planning consistency, among others.
The latest round of grantees shows West Warwick’s Crompton Playground and Stephen Clarke Recreation Area leading the score with 76.63 points. The lowest scoring project approved for funding was Smithfield’s Deerfield Park Splash Pad with an average score of 44.88.
The committee examined a total of 53 project applications from municipalities.
The state is represented by two departmental planners: Megan DiPrete, Department Manager for Planning and Development at DEM, and Paul Gonsalves, Principal Planner for the Department of Statewide Planning. The governor’s office has a seat on the committee, but the seat is currently vacant.
The Rhode Island Recreation and Parks Association is represented by Scott Sevegny, whose day job is a recreation program assistant for the City of Cranston.
The Recreation and Parks Association has an additional representative for a ‘disturbed community’. The seat is occupied by John Blais, a Parks and Recreation Director for the City of Pawtucket.
Representative of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns is Andrew Wade, a director of parks and recreational community services in the city of East Greenwich.
Albert Ranaldi, urban planner for Lincoln, serves on the committee representing the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Planning Association.
The two general members of the public are Pilar McCloud and Elliot Rivera.
Gov. McKee’s proposed state budget for this year included $38 million for a similar loan. If the issue of the bond were passed by the general assembly this year, it would come to a vote in November.