A Narragansett-based company that has a 40 year history in restoring aging buildings, including lighthouses, has been selected to bring new life to a Warwick icon that is showing its age and visually …
A Narragansett-based company that has a 40 year history in restoring aging buildings, including lighthouses, has been selected to bring new life to a Warwick icon that is showing its age and visually deteriorating to those who get close enough to see weeds and grass growing on its broken roof, sagging guard rails and broken and missing windows.
But that’s not the image Conimicut Light casts to those walking Conimicut Point Beach. From such a distance, the black capped 58- foot high white tower, that is only accessible from the water, looks no different today than it did when the city took title to the light from the US Coast Guard in 2004. Mayor Frank Picozzi, City Planner Thomas Kravitz and city officials who have visited the light and climbed its winding stairs to reach the top platform know otherwise. They realized it’s going to take more than the $775,000 the City Council is prepared to pay Abcore Restoration Company. The council voted on Aug. 21 to enter negotiations with Abcore.
Kravitiz is in talks with Keith Lescarbeau, president of the company, to prioritize the work with the intention of first saving the light from further deterioration before entertaining how it could be used for educational purposes or leased to a company that would take on additional restoration with the intent of operating it as an enterprise.
From the day the city acquired the light, it was understood it was going to require substantial sums to restore and make her accessible to the public. Former Mayor Scott Avedisian advanced, what appeared to be, the most financially viable plan when his administration worked out an agreement with a company that converted the Borden Flats Light in Fall River offering an over night keepers’ program. The program is fully booked early in the season. According to the Borden Flats Light website, rates for the summer season (June – September) is $595 a night. Under the agreement Avedisian reached, the company would have gotten to use the light at virtually no cost on condition that it made the repairs and renovations. The proposed lease never came before the council for a vote.
Fortunately, before completing his 18-year career as the Second District Congressman, James Langevin put out the word of an Economic Development Initiative (EDI) grant program. When Picozzi, who had just assumed office learned of the opportunity he thought of the lighthouse. There wasn’t much time to meet the grant application deadline. Principal planner Lucas Murray and the planning department turned to the community. Letters of support came from more than a dozen organizations and individuals including the Conimicut Village Association, Save the Bay, the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers, the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, the Providence/Warwick Visitors Convention Bureau, the Edgewood Yacht Club and the Rocky Point Foundation. Langevin secured a $775,000 earmark grant to repair the light and build an informational kiosk at the park summarizing its history.
Among the city and state officials attending the April 2022 ceremony announcing the grant was Frederick Mikkelsen the former lighthouse keeper who started at the lighthouse in 1958 where he served until 1961. After being converted to electricity, the light was automated which meant that keepers weren’t needed. In 1963 the keepers were reassigned.
Mikkelsen related his experience of the hurricane of 1960, how the rocks making up the base of the light were submerged and waves were breaking against the tower up to the third story window.
“You couldn’t see much,” he said. He also spoke of the dangers of the Conimicut shoals that are exposed at low tide and are an invitation to beachgoers.
“That's what has taken so many lives. People walk out on the sand bar and they have no idea what is going to happen,” said Mikkelsen. Following the drowning of a young girl and the man who attempted to rescue her, Picozzi had large warning signs in English, Spanish and Portuguese erected on the beach. He has gone a step further with installation of a system he conceived and city IT director Philip Carlucci engineered using police car lights and audio mounted on a pole erected on the beach that will warn of the changing tides. The system is nearing completion.
A Conimicut Lighthouse was first built in 1868 and then replaced in 1883 with the so-called “sparkplug” type that was used by the Coast Guard. It survived the Great Storm (hurricane) of 1938 that sweep away most of the houses on Conimicut Point. The light remains a navigational tool today although pleasure boaters unfamiliar with the waters continue run aground on the sandy shoal. Either they are able to power off, get towed to deeper waters or find they have to wait for the incoming tide.
Abcore specializes in the restoration of old buildings and lighthouses. It has done restoration work on Rhode Island lights at Beavertail, Plum Beach, Rose Island, Pomham Rock, Dutch Harbor and Block Island Southeast Light which in large measure is why Kravitz recommended them from the three companies responding to the city’s request for qualifications.
Kravitz said in addition to structurally addressing the lighthouse, the city aims to ensure repairs are in keeping with it historically. He said Lescarbeau talked about enlarging the rock foundation on which it stands.
Lescarbeau could not be reached for comment.
Picozzi said he would be surprised if restoration work starts this year.