They won’t be cutting up the saw tooth building in Apponaug.
That was never AAA Northeast’s plan or the vision of its board chairman, Mark Shaw.
Rather than alter the distinctive feature of the building built in 1905 as part of the Apponaug Mill, or tear down the two-story brick structure, Shaw is out to preserve it as the future home for offices just up Centreville Road. AAA bought the building from the state at auction for $875,000 in June 2017.
Apart from a few boards over broken windows, not much has visibly happened since then until this fall.
“It’s good to see lights in there,” Mayor Joseph Solomon said last week, imagining that once renovations are completed and the offices occupied it will pump new life into the village. The building will house customer services, a call center and training classrooms with about 100 employees. Additionally, several road service vehicles will be based at the site, but not likely garaged in the building.
“I’m kind of fussy about that building,” Shaw confesses.
James Switzer, foreman on the job for Case Construction, backs that up.
Switzer said Shaw is a regular visitor and has picked out items such as water meters and light fixtures that he wants to save and have on display once renovations are completed. Switzer has worked on the renovation of eight Rhode Island mills and many more out of state as they were converted into condos or offices.
“They had a lot of money,” he said, looking up from the first floor. “They used steel and steel is expensive,” he explained pointing to an I-bean running the width of the building. He’s also impressed by the workmanship that went into the building. He said there are 98 windows, which are all being replaced, and measurements between all of them vary by no more than a half-inch.
Work started last week on replacing rotted sections of the roof that will be followed by a new roof. The next step will be replacing sections of the second story floor where the roof leaked and the boards have given way. Custom-milled tongue and grove pine boards stand at the ready. Planks 3½ inches thick will be used for the flooring. Two-and-a-half-inch boards will be used for the roof.
A newly dug trench runs down the center of the first floor, the bed for a drain for the valleys of the saw tooth roof. Switzer said many of the roof drains were plugged, resulting in backups and leaks.
The plan is to use the existing freight elevator shaft, which is near the middle of the building, for an elevator. The building entrance will be in the same approximate area. It will give onto a foyer and staircase where light would spill from the roof and its windows above. The design calls for an open floor plan with lots of natural lighting.
The property also includes the historic Greene House near the intersection of Post and Centerville roads. Initially, Shaw thought AAA might restore the structure using it as a sort of bed and breakfast for AAA corporate visitors from across the country. That isn’t proving practical, and now Shaw is talking about moving it and gifting it to the city. Depending on location, Solomon believes it could become a signature element for the village.
There are some hurdles.
The Historic District Commission will need to review the plans as well as Shaw’s proposal for solar panels on the roof. He notes the roof is perfectly angled for a solar installation.
Shaw extols the cooperation he’s received from the city – and in particular Lucas Murray of the Planning Department, who he called “the nicest and most dedicated employee.”
In addition to roof work and second-story flooring, Shaw said the re-pointing and the cleaning of the southern end of the building should start this week. The plan is to have the building fully enclosed with new windows by April next year and the overall project completed by this time next year.
A challenge yet to be worked out is parking. The lot is limited, but Shaw is confident of a solution. As the lot borders Hardig Brook, which is a herring run, plans also require Coastal Resources Management Council approval.
Shaw calls the job “an extensive project,” which he estimated would cost in the range of $6 million. He notes that AAA has no plans to rent out space nor is looking to turn around and sell it.
“We’re not doing this for anything but to keep this. We’re glad we bought it and saved it,” he said.