Although it might have been thought to be an ideal location for a new military academy in Warwick, the Pvt. Lloyd S. Cooper III Army Reserve Center already has a future purpose once the city takes ownership of the facility from the U.S. Army.
Rick Crenca from the city’s Planning Department explained that if and when the city is able to acquire the building, it has to be used as a city recreational facility because that is the plan they presented and have had approved.
Because of its future as a recreation facility, the city will not have to pay to take ownership of the building from the federal government; Crenca estimates if the city bought the building the price tag could be up to $1 million.
“[A rec center] is what it has to be used for due to the fact that we are getting the building for free and it has been approved for recreation use,” said Crenca.
But it has not been an easy, or short, process. After looking back at documents regarding the armory, Crenca realized the city began looking to acquire the facility in the spring of 2006.
“I couldn’t believe it’s been that long,” said Crenca.
It all began when the Army consolidated three units and moved to a new facility in Newport, leaving the three properties, including the armory on Sandy Lane, as surplus.
Such empty properties owned by the Army fall under the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC), and cities can apply to gain ownership of the now vacant properties.
“That’s a long, involved process,” said Crenca.
At first, the city proposed to use the space as new municipal office space, until they learned that certain re-uses led to acquiring the property at no cost.
“These certain re-uses the federal government will allow for free, others you have to pay for,” said Crenca. “To re-use it as a recreational center was one of the re-uses we could get for free.”
The city’s re-use plan for the two-story building and over 20,000 square-foot property is very general.
“What we envision is the city running recreation programs out of the building,” said Crenca.
That can include workout classes, card leagues, a recreational basketball league and more.
The facility includes a large yard, drill hall, kitchen, storage and office space, all of which can be re-imagined.
Discussion about creating a Municipal Recreation Facility began as early as the late 1970s, however Crenca said it is simply something the city was never able to get.
According to Crenca, the creation of a recreation center falls under Public Benefit Domain, so the city will not have to pay for the building, however they will have to pay for any costs to renovate the building.
The process to acquire the building has been a long one and is not yet complete.
“The re-use plan took a while, and there are a lot of channels you have to go through,” said Crenca.
The process hit a snag when trash was found at the back of the property left behind from the former Warwick City Dump. It took two years of coordination with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to clear up that situation.
But the National Parks Service and Department of Housing and Urban Development have approved the re-use plan; according to Crenca, the only remaining element is final approval from the Army.
Crenca hopes to have the keys in hand by June.
But because the Armory has been approved as a rec center, it cannot be a possible location for the Rhode Island Military Organization’s Youth Development Academy. However, RIMO’s other possible location, Rhodes School, is certainly a possibility.
“The city has always owned that building,” said Crenca, about the school, which was closed following elementary school consolidation. “You don’t want to have buildings like that sitting empty.”
A committee was put together to look at re-uses for Rhodes, and an RFP [Request for Proposal] was put out in 2012 looking for those interested in using the space for assisted living.
“We didn’t get any responses,” said Crenca.
The process was halted, waiting to see if more school consolidation would occur, but recently started again. Within the next week, Crenca is planning to put out a second RFP for Rhodes School, without the requirement of assisted living.
RIMO expressed their interest in Rhodes School at the end of 2013, before the committee went back out to bid.
“They’ve been making proposals. They met with the committee,” said Crenca.
The re-use committee requested business plans, financials and other information from RIMO, but Crenca was hopeful the organization would be ready to respond to the latest RFP in the coming weeks.
RIMO’s Youth Development Academy would be a voluntary, quasi-military academy for at-risk students. Seventeen or 18-year-olds who are at-risk or dropping out, or who have dropped out, will be able to enroll in the 22-week program. Students in the program will graduate with their GED, some college credits, and be on their way to the military, college or the Rhode Island workforce. For more information about the academy, email academy@RiMilVets.org.