First step to new role for Aldrich

Posted 4/20/23

Mayor Frank Picozzi fingered the hefty rope hanging from the rafters with big knots every couple of feet.

“This is the sissy rope,” he said remembering his days in junior high when he …

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First step to new role for Aldrich


Mayor Frank Picozzi fingered the hefty rope hanging from the rafters with big knots every couple of feet.

“This is the sissy rope,” he said remembering his days in junior high when he barely weighed 110 pounds.  He didn’t climb the sissy rope when he was a student. He went for the knot-less rope and recalls going hand-over-hand to reach the top without wrapping the rope around his legs.  The big kids couldn’t do that, not even on the sissy rope. “They were too heavy.”

“If I had different shoes,” he said pondering whether he should attempt climbing either of the ropes Tuesday. Staff members looked on. Would the mayor really attempt to climb the ropes in the long closed Aldrich Junior High School gym?

Picozzi agreed a video of such an attempt would probably go viral, especially if he reached the top and had to be rescued or dropped to the floor. And knowing of his affinity to the web that seemed like enticement enough.

But, no, Tuesday morning Picozzi was looking to pull some other ropes and have at least one if not more of the group gathered for the tour to submit a bid for the school built in 1934 and the 11-acre site on Post Road. Aldrich represents the last major piece of vacant school property the administration hopes to sell this year. It promises to be one of the more difficult as the administration has signaled it is not looking for a retail development and would prefer that at a minimum its columned entrance and brick façade be preserved. The suggested options include keeping it a school or renovating it for housing or offices.

If developers were seriously thinking of saving the school they didn’t show their cards. A few took pictures, but none of the group unrolled measuring tapes, tapped walls or posed questions such as “how old is the roof?” 

Paint from the gym rafters flaked the floor that was in remarkably good shape considering it hadn’t been touched for six years. There was no warping. The ceiling was free of water stains. In fact, corridors and classroom floors were dry unlike the much newer former John Wickes Elementary School that closed. The city reached an agreement for its sale in May of 2022. A pre-bidding tour of Wickes last April found puddles on the floods and fallen ceiling tiles. That school has been demolished as the site for a  single-family development.

The white boards in some of the Aldrich classrooms still had lesson instructions as if the students and teachers had walked out the day before. A map of the world hung from one wall and in a lab, a ruler was balanced on a sink. Had an experiment been interrupted? The rooms were void of furniture and generally clean with the exception of a couple of rooms at the north end of the school where vandals had problem windows, allowing pigeons in. The floor was spotted with their poop and one of the birds soared between the rooms, flapping futilely against the window.

House Speaker and Warwick attorney K. Joseph Shekarchi, who has represented many developers before the City Council and Planning and Zoning Boards wasn’t at the Aldrich tour. Given the inquiries he’s received, he believes there is substantial interest in Aldrich from local as well as Connecticut and Massachusetts developers. Shekarchi is in the forefront of introducing and promoting legislation that would relax single family housing zoning to allow for multi-family housing.

City Planner Tom Kravitz was encouraged by the turnout. He said one developer had traveled from Connecticut to take the building tour. He purposely took attendees to the third floor.

“As a matter of fact, a comment was made while walking the top floor about how all the ceiling tiles are remarkably dry with no historical signs of roof leaks,” he said in an email.

Under the terms set forth by the city, bidders have until June 5 to submit their bids that will be opened that night at the meeting of the Council Public Properties Committee. Bids are to be accompanied by a $100,000 deposit. The deposit of the selected bidder will be applied to the purchase price.

The bid package also includes a listing of asbestos in the school and an estimate by GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc. of $1,044,000 to have it removed. Whether the building is demolished or converted for housing or another use, the future owner would be faced with that expense. Prospective buyers were also informed that future development of the property is to include a public recreational component . They were also provided the option of subdividing the property with possible layout for a single family development behind the school.

Among those participating in the walk-though were representatives of the Public Archaeology Laboratory. Alisa Augenstein, senior architectural historian with PAL, was interested in viewing the historical features of the building. She noted that redevelopment of the school could be eligible for state and federal programs providing $5 million in funds and as much of 20 percent of qualified costs.

Told of that, one of the local developers shook his head. Even with such incentives he thought renovating the building would take millions, making it unfeasible.

Kravitz is optimistic.

“The turnout was a good sign, and I am looking forward to receiving multiple bids,” he said.


Aldrich, sale, school