Those dejected over the closing of the Buttonwoods Community Center may have reason to rejoice sooner than they may believe, as top city officials are putting a high priority on reopening at least a portion of the building for use again within the coming months.
“It’s a beautiful structure,” said Mayor Joseph Solomon during an appearance at the Warwick Rotary Club on Thursday. “It doesn’t look like it’s a large building, but if you go in there and visit…there is almost 7,000 square feet of usable space in there.”
Solomon, along with Ward 7 Councilman Stephen McAllister and Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur, are on a mission to reopen the community center, which used to be a favorite place for local senior citizens to get together and socialize, according to the advocates who want to reopen the doors.
The center was closed last year by former Mayor Scott Avedisian, who argued then that the building would require about $463,000 of repairs (primarily the degraded roof) in addition to its roughly $75,000 annual cost to operate compared to just $26,400 in rent money it generated.
The building formerly housed the city’s Department of Human Services, programs operated by Westbay Community Action and the Comprehensive Community Action (CCAP), in addition to being home to a large community room that attracted a popular group of regulars, such as a group of nearly 70 people that ran a High Lo Jack league.
While the City Council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution to save the building from being shuttered, it ultimately closed anyways, with many who opposed the closing claiming there were additional political motivations behind the action.
Now, Solomon and his former City Council colleagues are looking to put the required work into the building and reopen it for many of the same possible purposes. While the whole building may take more time, both Solomon and McAllister are hopeful they can at least address the issues required to re-open the center’s community room, so seniors can once again populate the space.
Another possible use, Solomon offered, was to relocate some of the municipal workers who were displaced to the former Greene Elementary School following a pipe bursting in the City Hall Annex Building to the center.
There’s some work to be done in order to get to this reality first, though.
“First goal is to get that roof fixed,” McAllister said following the Rotary meeting on Thursday. “People are reaching out to us about it, that’s the great thing. People love that building, it’s a community building in the center of the city. You can use it for meetings, bingo, cards, socializing; we want to get the community back in there.”
McAllister said the Buttonwoods Center was the number one issue he heard from constituents about and remains a hot topic of correspondence with people from Ward 7. He said that the center could potentially rent space to Westbay or CCAP again, or other nonprofits looking for a large space in the middle of the community.
“It’s already wired for Internet and already wired for phones. It’s a huge space,” McAllister said, adding that the building is already up to fire code standards. “There’s a lot of offices and former classroom spaces. We can put a lot of different options on the table for that.”
The outside of the building has recently been worked on by city DPW workers, cleaning up debris and reinvigorating the outdoor garden spaces. McAllister said that DPW workers would be instrumental in performing work on the inside as well, and that he and Ladouceur were looking into businesses that might be willing to donate materials and work to help with the costly fix for the roof.
“We’re talking with different companies willing to volunteer. We would need the city workers to do a lot of the work as well,” he said. “For the mayor, this has been a top priority for him and he’s leading the charge.”
While any work on the center would require funding approval from the City Council, McAllister didn’t anticipate finding support among the council – nor the public, for that matter – would be very challenging.
“I’m fairly confident we’ll have support from the whole council,” he said. “I’ve even had seniors mention, ‘I’ve got a hammer,’ so we got lots of options.”