Dressed for an Apponaug village revival

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The Victorian Lady and her sidekick sister are dressed for the revival of Apponaug.

The Victorian Lady, as she was dubbed in the campaign to raise $200,000, are the offices of the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce. Across from City Hall, she has been offices for professionals, a barbershop, the Warwick Beacon and, according to local lore, the Sherman Funeral Home in the early 1900s. There were apartments in the basement and on the third floor. Now the basement floor is the Greenwood Credit Union Business Information Center and the third floor is used for storage.

Her companion also has a storied past. Now the Washington Trust Business Center, as part of the Chamber, the single-story building that is wider in the back than the front was once a blacksmith shop and then served as the office of the city clerk before the construction of City Hall in the late 1800s.

Both buildings showed their age and, while successive owners patched and painted, it became evident much more was needed. That was all the more pronounced by the flaking salmon paint of the “lady.” She was in tatters and in dire need of a facelift.

Paint was considered, but it only offered a temporary solution. In 2014 the Chamber explored vinyl siding but, being in a historical district, there were restrictions. Warwick Central Baptist Church had gained a waiver to vinyl-side the building and its steeple. Eventually, the historical district designation and its rigid regulation were changed when village zoning was approved for the village.

But dressing the lady proved more difficult than first imagined. Fundraising did not come readily and, as Lauren Slocum, Chamber president and CEO, and her board dug into the project it became apparent there was more to doing the project properly than covering over the shabby exterior with siding. New windows were needed. The roof needed repairs. Portions of the building had to be rebuilt, and that was without addressing heating and air conditioning, fire codes and handicapped access.

The city became a partner in the effort with a Community Development Block Grant for façade improvements.

Mayor Scott Avedisian terms the $20,000 grant as “minimal” given the overall scope of the project. He said with “a lot of private fundraising, the Chamber has harnessed great resources to renovate their headquarters.”

In December of 2015, with $160,000 of a $200,000 drive having been pledged or raised, the chamber announced improvements would start. It wasn’t to be, however, for another two years before visible improvements happened. And then the transformation seemed to happen overnight.

One of the hang-ups, explains Slocum, was the color of the building that had been chosen by a vote among Chamber members and those choosing to participate. By the time the Chamber was ready to move ahead with the work, the preferred color was no longer available.

Perhaps more than any other city employee, Avedisian has reason to be thankful. His office looks directly out on the chamber building and its baby sister.

“I am thrilled to see the renovations nearing completion,” he said in an email. He went on to say, “The Apponaug roundabouts, along with the House of Hope renovations on Post Road, the restoration of City Hall, a remake of Dorothy Mayor Park, and new businesses in Apponaug, the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce renovations are a welcome addition to the landscape in Apponaug Village.”

“It’s like night and day,” says chamber board chairman Jo-Ann Schofield.

She said she is excited to have the building reflect the good work being done by the Chamber. She also remarked on the timeliness of project completion with completion of the Apponaug Circulator.

“It even makes it more attractive,” she said.

Board vice chairman Joseph Lajoie of Greenwood Credit Union called the facelift “long overdue” and likewise felt completion of the work was “perfect timing.” He said the focus now needs to turn to making the office more functional. Lajoie is slated to follow in Schofield’s footsteps as board chair.

“I’m looking forward to what the Chamber can do,” he said.

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