October 21, 2014
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Mayor seeks possible uses for Potowomut, Rhodes Schools

Can a former school become a fire station, and perhaps, a community center, as well?

That’s one of the questions Mayor Scott Avedisian hopes to answer with an as of yet unnamed committee when it studies possible uses for two closed schools.

Potowomut and Christopher Rhodes were among four elementary schools closed within the last four years as part of a consolidation effort responding to declining enrollment and budget limits. The Greene School has been converted into administrative offices and is also used by the West Bay Collaborative. Drum Rock has been converted into the department’s early childhood center.

But the School Department has turned Potowomut and Rhodes back to the city and their future use is uncertain.

“The number one suggestion was to rent it out as a school,” Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla said, recalling prior proposals for the Potowomut building. The school was the preferred site for a charter school, which was proposed by a neighborhood group that had won more than $750,000 in federal funding but Warwick Schools was opposed to the concept and the plan failed to get selected by the Board of Regents.

Meanwhile, the building remained as School Department property. Another possibility discussed was to lease the school to the Trudeau Center.

“It’s kind of unfortunate that they [School Department] dumped it back into the lap of the city,” said Merolla. The school was turned back to the city on April 1, 2011.

Avedisian said yesterday that Warwick Fire Chief Edmund Armstrong has been in contact with the East Greenwich Fire District, as he understands East Greenwich is looking to relocate its Main Street station.

“East Greenwich is talking about building,” the mayor said.

Whether Potowomut would be suitable for a station serving East Greenwich is not known, but the possibility of the two municipalities working cooperatively has the mayor and Merolla interested.

“It could provide an extra level of protection [for Potowomut residents] and save us money. It would be a win-win,” said Merolla.

Neither the East Greenwich town manager nor the Fire District could be reached for comment.

Merolla pushed for funding of a Potowomut fire station as part of a bond package approved by voters in 2006. But with the city facing budgetary constraints, Avedisian placed a moratorium on any additional debt and the proposal went to the wayside.

Potowomut residents get fire service under an agreement with the East Greenwich Fire District. Apparatus are also dispatched from the Warwick station on Cowesett Avenue.

Avedisian said, in addition to location, the study committee would also need to look at the feasibility of converting portions of the school into a fire station. He said the school’s all-purpose room might be used as a fire bay. Portions of the building would also need to be converted as living quarters for firefighters. Given the size of the school, Avedisian believes there would be sufficient space for a community center, too.

Cooperation between the Warwick and East Greenwich Fire Departments is not new. More than two years ago, the departments agreed to consolidate dispatch operations with Warwick. That effort is ongoing as the technicalities of combining alarm systems are being worked out.

After closing, Rhodes School was rented to the Rhode Island School for the Deaf on a temporary basis as that school built new facilities in Providence. The School Committee turned back the Rhodes School to the city this April 1.

The mayor said he would look for community input on the future of both schools and that he is hopeful those he names to look at possible options for the buildings, including their sale, would provide cost estimates.


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