While Mayor Joseph Solomon would love to find buyers for the former Aldrich Junior High School, John Wickes Elementary School and the shuttered former school administration offices on Warwick Avenue, he has no plans of parting with Randall Holden School.
Three municipal offices were relocated to the former school not far from Hoxsie Four Corners this month, and Westbay Community Action aims to move its operations now housed in Buttonwoods by the end of the year.
“We’re not selling it,” Solomon said Wednesday when asked whether the city would seek requests for proposals for the school. “It’s going to continue to be an asset of the city. It’s a revenue-generating asset.”
Yet, while the intended use of the school has been reported and Westbay executive director Paul Salera and Solomon have worked out an agreement, a lease has not been finalized, nor is there a schedule for it to be considered by the City Council. Solomon said a lease is in the process of being drafted and it will be similar to a “triple net lease” with Westbay responsible for paying for utilities and maintenance. As Westbay is a non-profit agency, it would not be paying taxes. Nonetheless, the mayor expects the relationship to be a financial benefit to taxpayers and the school fields to be available to the community.
Solomon said the cart is somewhat ahead of the horse, as he had intended to have a neighborhood meeting to outline uses of the school before making any formal announcements. That meeting is planned for Thursday at 6 p.m. at the school.
Salera said he went door-to-door last Wednesday passing out fliers and talking to people. He said the purpose of the meeting is to outline the intended use of the school, entertain questions and address concerns.
Ward 4 Councilman James McElroy said he met with the mayor and Salera last week and he requested a neighborhood meeting to discuss Westbay’s proposed use of the former school. McElroy said he was impressed by the programs offered by Westbay and it is his understanding that the office would not be open on nights or weekends. As the entrance is to be shifted to the side of the building, he thought there would be minimal on-street parking.
“It seems like a pretty good thing,” he said of the proposal.
As for the lease, Salera said Westbay could not afford to pay anymore in rent than it is now. He put that amount at about $120,000. He expects Westbay would be paying utilities but not for the upkeep of the grounds as the former school is also being used for city offices.
“I’m hopeful of a good partner,” Salera said.
Thus far, he said, “The city, the mayor, everyone has been unbelievable.”
Salera said “what is so beautiful” about the former school is that no renovations are required in order to make the move and that overall the agency will gain an additional 50 percent in space. A staff of about 40 people will be based at the former school, although, as some are case workers, not all of them will be on the premises at all times. Based on activity at the Buttonwoods offices, the former school can expect to get a steady stream of clients. The school’s proximity to Warwick Avenue and Airport Road and bus routes make it especially well situated.
Salera said he has received positive feedback from area merchants as the presence of Westbay is expected to bring an increase in business.
Salera also sees making portions of the school, such as the all-purpose room and gym, available to community use.
“Once we get settled in, we’ll be looking at that,” he said.
The city personnel, MIS and Community Development offices were relocated from the former Greene School on Draper Avenue to the northeast wing of Holden last month, thereby completing the relocation of city offices from Greene. City Hall Annex offices were hurriedly moved to Greene in January 2018 during a cold snap when a second floor pipe burst, flooding the assessors and tax collector’s offices.
Greene School continues to be operated by the School Department. A section of the building is leased to the West Bay Collaborative. There has been no discussion as to what the rest of the building will be used for now that the city offices have moved out, according to Cathy Bonang, secretary to Superintendent Philip Thornton.
The annex remains closed with the exception of some city building maintenance offices.
Asked about talks with the Rhode Island Interlocal Risk Management Trust over an insurance claim for the annex, Solomon said, “They are moving forward.” Elaborating, he said discussions are ongoing, although nothing has been agreed to.
“We’re closer this year than we were at this time last year,” he said.
The trust didn’t return a request for comment.