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Supreme Court kitchen is a frugal affair


It's one of those wonderful Rhode Island rumors: While the state was said to be facing a growing budget deficit, Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Williams reputedly spends tax money to build a gourmet kitchen on the seventh floor of the Frank Licht Judicial Complex. This was the scuttlebutt circulating at the courthouse.

Williams is a gourmet cook. And he did order the installation of a kitchen adjacent to the Supreme Court's conference room. But the result looks more like a kitchen in a group home or renovated second-floor apartment. The kitchen lacks a center island and no cooking implements dangle from the ceiling. Instead, prefabricated cabinets hang on green walls above the green linoleum floor. The $431 four-burner gas stove, $899 refrigerator, and $640 dishwasher were chosen from the master price list used for all state institutions. The project was finished in June and cost about $25,000, according to receipts furnished by Paul Petit, executive director of facilities and operations for the courts.

"I'm a little troubled someone would make an issue over a break room," Williams says, adding that the Phoenix was the third media outlet to inquire about the rumored gourmet kitchen. In keeping with his philosophy of making public buildings more accessible, the new kitchen-break room is available for all types of court functions, not just Supreme Court events, Williams says. The chief justice promises to hold a reception with cookies to permanently dispel the rumors of fiscal irresponsibility.

In a frugal touch, many furnishings for the kitchen were supplied by the justices themselves, according to a list supplied by the court's spokeswoman, Dyana Koelsch. Robert Flanders Jr. supplied a ladle, juice glasses, a baking sheet and Windex, while Victoria Lederberg provided flour, salt and pepper, and pot scrubbers. Maureen McKenna Goldberg donated a paring knife, a cutting board, and an electric skillet. And Williams contributed a chef's knife, a garlic press, measuring cups, and spoons and a vegetable peeler.

The kitchen is one of several building improvements initiated by Williams after he became chief justice in February 2001. Staff break rooms were refurbished on the first and seventh floor and outfitted with new furniture, some of which Williams's wife, Virginia, snagged at yard sales. Virginia Williams also made curtains for a break room and repainted its walls, according to Koelsch. In addition, prison inmates repainted hallways and ceilings, and interior marble was cleaned on the fifth and seventh floors. Williams did install a gas heater unit in the chief justice's fireplace, costing $2360 in labor and materials, according to the receipt. Two wing chairs brought by Williams from his home sit in front of the fireplace.

Issue Date: November 22 - 28, 2002