The grand dame of Fair Street is naked.
Well, she still has some of her filigree and accessories. And she still wears her hat, an enclosed widow’s walk with view of Pawtuxet Village and the bay with panache.
But in the last couple of weeks, a lot has been stripped from the lady, which is surely one of the largest and most domineering houses of the village. Windows are being taken off. Doors are missing, railings have disappeared, and sitting prominently in the front yard where there once stood a tree is a steam shovel.
It’s no wonder many think it won’t be long before the house, built in the 1800s, is reduced to rubble. Robert Bennett, supervisor on the job for Stand Corporation, has gotten the question as to when she’ll come down and what will be built in her place.
But the fact is what’s happening now has been on the drawing boards for years. House of Hope CDC bought the property in 2012 for $185,000, and the folks at the non-profit are giving a collective sigh of relief that, finally, renovation of the former mansion has started, as well as construction of a five-unit addition to the back of the building.
Bennett said Friday that completing the foundation for the addition is a priority, as the intention is not to halt construction during the winter. Of course, there’s a lot of work to be done in the mansion as well. The ceilings will be torn out so as to snake the wires and install the pumping for the five units to be housed there. Wherever possible, the original plaster walls will be saved.
When restoration and renovation work is completed next fall, the house will have five efficiency apartment units designed for one-person occupancy with a bath and cooking area, communal kitchen and laundry and dining areas, and an office for supporting staff. The addition will house three efficiency units and two units with a bedroom and full kitchen. All units will be affordable housing.
The cost of restoring the house has delayed the start of construction. The first round of bids exceeded the budget, requiring architect John O’Hearne and Stand Corporation that was the lowest bidder to perform “value engineering” to reduce costs by more than $123,000. Among changes, O’Hearne said in a telephone interview, were the elimination of buried electrical service, revisions to the grading that eliminated a stonewall, and the use of fiberglass insulation.
Making the job all the more demanding was the decision to seek $231,000 in state historic tax credits for the project. While the sale of those credits generated revenue, the House of Hope was required to faithfully restore the house down to replicating ornamental features in wood rather than foam that would have been cheaper while achieving the same effect.
“They wanted to really keep that jewel,” O’Hearne said of the House of Hope.
The revisions brought the cost of renovations down to $1,605,000, an amount that was still greater than funding secured for the project.
“We were kind of over budget,” House of Hope Executive Director Jean Johnson said.
The board appealed for additional funding from Rhode Island Housing, and with an additional $350,000 funding was in place.
Meanwhile, the macroburst of Aug. 4 hit, downing trees and hitting the House of Hope with unanticipated expenses, not to mention removal of trees that added to the established and stately, although bedraggled, appearance of the property.
In her age, the lady has also slumped, a condition, Bennett explained, that will be corrected by jacking up the front of the house, including the porch and the balcony above it. The double deck of the porch will be torn off, and Bennett wouldn’t be surprised if rotted beams will have to be torn out and replaced. The same is true for the columns.
Surprisingly, with the exception of one small flat roof, the main roof is in reasonable shape, and there’s no fear that leaks will impair the work. Windows being pulled out will be re-glazed and kept as single panes in keeping with the overall historic restoration of the building. Copper roofs will be replaced over the bay windows, as will ornamental trim on the exterior of the structure.
In the back of the house, excavation has been completed for the addition, with the next step being the setting of forms and the pouring of concrete as the Fair Street house is prepared for a new phase in her long life.