It’s been nine years since the School Department closed the doors of Christopher Rhodes School. Other than a year when it was used by the Rhode Island School for the Deaf while it was building a new school in Providence, Rhodes has sat empty, a target for graffiti and a victim to deterioration of Mother Nature and lack of use.
There have been efforts to sell the property with former Ward 2 Councilman and City Council President Bruce Place taking a direct interest that he sustained even after leaving office. One of the first suggestions for the school that appeared to fit well with the surrounding residential neighborhood was to repurpose the building for assisted living. It would have left the building virtually intact and been a low impact use with minimal traffic – a good fit with the surrounding single-family homes.
Despite advertising the site and efforts to match the building with developers of assisted living facilities, the city didn’t find any buyers. The school continued to sit empty. Working with Place and his group, the city drafted another set of less restrictive bid specifications that solicited the promising proposal of the Artist Exchange to relocate its operations from Cranston to Warwick. The Artist Exchange would have basically used the school as a school, conducting its arts programs in the building, making space available for artists’ studios and holding performances in the auditorium. It proposed leasing Rhodes for $1 a year. There was support for the proposal, but it came apart when the Artist Exchange dug into the cost of restoring and upgrading the building.
Buildings deteriorate quickly when left vacant.
With the closing of adjoining Aldrich Junior High School last year, the city thought there might be interest in developing the two properties, although again there was that underlying concern for what would best fit with the neighborhood and the city’s comprehensive plan. The city made it clear it sought to preserve the character of Aldrich, preferring proposals that would retain the building’s façade.
Last month the city received bids for each of the schools. The International Charter School would pay $1.9 million for Aldrich, which it would use to expand its program to a K-8 school. ICS estimates renovation costs at $6.9 million and, in addition, would reconfigure the school entrance from residential Relph Street to coincide with the traffic signal at the entrance to the Walmart plaza.
Developer High Fisher has advanced two proposals for Rhodes, both of which would involve the demolition of the former school. His offer is $550,000 less than the cost of razing the former school. He proposes building either 27 single-family homes or 50 condominiums on the property.
Both the proposals for Aldrich and Rhodes have merit.
We know from efforts to find a new use for Rhodes that time can render what was once a vital part of the community into an eyesore and deterrent. The proposals are under review by City Planner William DePasquale, who will offer recommendations when they are submitted to the City Council for action.
Both proposals are opportunities for productive uses for the two properties. They deserve thoughtful consideration.