Built as a high school in 1934, converted into a junior school during the boom years when Warwick school enrollment soared to nearly 20,000 and then closed in 2017 when enrollment steadily declined …
Built as a high school in 1934, converted into a junior school during the boom years when Warwick school enrollment soared to nearly 20,000 and then closed in 2017 when enrollment steadily declined to less than 10,000, Aldrich was put on a path to a new life as housing for moderate and low income seniors Monday night.
Unanimously the City Council approved the $2 million bid of WinnDevelopment with corporate offices in Boston to buy the imposing red brick building with its staircase leading to a columned entrance overlooking Post Road. Winn’s was the highest of five bids for the school and its 11 acres across from a former shopping plaza now home to a Wall Mart. Winn was also the only bidder to put forward a plan to repurpose the building, which city fathers had hoped for, rather than leveling the site for housing or worse yet for a big box store.
Open space & recreational facilities
Better yet, Winn proposes saving the school’s athletic fields, that under zoning could be developed into 17 single-family homes, as open and recreational space. To ensure that dream becomes reality, Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix offered a stipulation calling on the parties to incorporate that in the purchase and sales agreement. The provision was readily approved by the council and supported by Michael Zarum one of two members of the public to speak in favor of the sale. Zarum had come to the meeting prepared to argue for conditions preserving the open space. He was happy to learn that’s planned.
In a summary of its proposal, Winn writes that upon taking title to the property the space behind the school building would be subdivided and deeded back to the city for public/recreational use. The company asks that it has consent rights over the intended use of the property “to ensure that it is compatible with mixed-income residential housing,” and should at any time that parcel be for sale Winn would have a Right of First Refusal and/or match such an offer.
Winn further says it “welcomes the opportunity to explore” public use of the school’s gym and auditorium for public programming.
In preparation of the meeting, Rix emailed constituents spelling out the proposed conversion of the school into 15 studio, 55 one-bedroom and 5 two bedroom apartments designed for seniors 55+ years old of mixed incomes. He writes that he has heard a lot of positive feedback about the Winn proposal and reports the administration’s favorable recommendation.
“That makes sense to me, as they're the highest bidder and their proposal included several benefits to the neighborhood,” Rix writes.
At Monday’s Council meeting, Rix talked of the work the administration and in particular the planning department put into advertising and promoting the sale of the school. Mayor Frank Picozzi had made the sale of vacant school property a priority and included $2.5 million in the 2024 Fiscal Budget as proceeds from Aldrich. While the bid is less than projected, Picozzi expressed his delight in Winn’s plan to save the building and the land behind it for open space and recreation.
In his email to constituents, Rix wrote, “kudos again to Mayor Picozzi and the City Planning Director, who expressed interest in making improvements to Aldrich Field! Public input, especially from the immediate neighbors, is going to be essential in determining what would be the best investment in public recreation at Aldrich Field. It's still very early in the process, but, it's not too early to think of the possibilities.”
It may seem early in the process, however, according to the Winn proposal, they don’t plan on wasting time to put the project on tract.
The Winn timetable suggests execution of an agreement by this August which would be followed with a survey and environmental appraisal and market study. Design would start in September with final financing submission by January 2024. Winn would be looking for RI Housing Board Review Approval in May 2024. Should it not receive approval, it would reapply in 2025, meaning a one year delay. It is looking for a financial closing and the start of construction in March 2025. Construction would be completed by September 2026.
National Register of Historic Places?
According to the summary accompanying the 77-page proposal for the Aldrich development, in its 50 year history Winn has earned a national reputation for award-winning real estate development , acquiring and developing holdings valuing more than $2.5 billion with an emphasis on large scale mixed-use and mixed –income multifamily properties. It said it has completed more than three dozen historic adaptive reuse projects resulting in 3,600 units of housing.
Winn is no stranger to Rhode Island. It acquired Lockwood Plaza in Providence in 2001 and has since grown to manage more than 1,100 units of rental housing in the state. Their projects include Prospect Heights in Pawtucket, Phoenix Apartments and Wiggin Village in Providence and Harbor View Apartments in Warwick. The company has a history of restoring and repurposing old mill buildings, factory buildings and schools like Aldrich. Additionally, it claims to be a “national leader” in utilizing federal and state Historic Tax Credits and working through the process with both National Park Service and the RI Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission “to cobble together resources to facilitate these complex developments.”
Winn says it would “work diligently” to get Aldrich listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In addition to providing a range of housing for different income levels the company provides resident services and on-site services for seniors through a platform called Connected Communities and with partnerships with other service providers in health care.