CRMC Wants State to Reopen Wakefield Office Closed to Public
Oliver Stedman Government Center, which houses various state agencies, was closed to visitors before the pandemic
October 14, 2022
WAKEFIELD, R.I. — Months after state officials lifted most pandemic restrictions and facility closures, a prominent government campus in South County remains shuttered to the public.
The 48,000-square-foot Oliver Stedman Government Center Campus, built in 1970 on Tower Hill Road, houses the Coastal Resources Management Council, as well as branch locations for the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles, Department of Children, Youth & Families, Department of Labor and Training, and Department of Human Services. These offices remain open by appointment only.
Despite several of these agencies — the DMV, DHS, and CRMC in particular — having various customer-facing functions, where members of the public must go in person to conduct business, the building has remained locked since before the pandemic.
Emails obtained by ecoRI News show CRMC requested last month that the building be reopened to the public. Executive director Jeff Willis, in an email to the governor’s office, said the agency received requests to view physical files or faced questions from residents who are considering applying for a coastal permit.
“If someone needs to come into the office, they just call and we come to the door and open it,” wrote Willis. “It would be better if the door wasn’t locked.”
Currently only one subcommittee is hosted at CRMC’s offices in the Stedman Center, the council’s planning and policy procedures subcommittee. There are no known Open Meeting Act violations against the agency since its building became locked.
The Stedman Center, like all state-owned and -operated buildings, is run by the Department of Administration’s Division of Capital Asset Management & Maintenance (DCAMM). DCAMM has indicated it is willing to work with the member agencies inside the Stedman Center to partially reopen the building.
But the Stedman Center’s closure predates the pandemic. According to emails obtained by ecoRI News, several of the agencies housed within the facility complained that DMV customers would leave its office on the first floor and mistakenly wander into other areas with no specific customer-facing offices.
“This caused concern for those agencies, and all agreed that we opened those entrances that serve the customer-facing agencies such as DHS & DMV while locking others to prevent this transient traffic in the building,” wrote Thomas Nagle, chief of integrated facilities management at DCAMM. “At the start of the pandemic, this restrictive access continued.”
The closure and late reopening of public and state government buildings made repeat headlines last year when state officials waited until June to reopen the Statehouse. The Providence Journal reported that Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea sent a fiery letter that starkly criticized the governor for waiting to reopen state buildings.
“If we are willing to say businesses and their employees return to their operations, how is the state government not prepared to do so as well?” Gorbea wrote.
CRMC has confirmed it is working with DCAMM to reopen its offices to the public, but did not provide a specific timeline.