Even before stepping into the corner office at City Hall, Mayor-elect Frank Picozzi listed the sale of vacant city properties, mostly schools, as a means of lessening the burden on the city and, more …
Even before stepping into the corner office at City Hall, Mayor-elect Frank Picozzi listed the sale of vacant city properties, mostly schools, as a means of lessening the burden on the city and, more importantly, returning them to the tax rolls. So far, no property has posed more of a challenge to sell than the former Aldrich Junior High School, built in 1934 and closed in 2017.
What’s made it tough is the stately appearance of the brick building with its columned entrance located on Post Road and across from Walmart. It’s a Warwick landmark. Yet, Aldrich’s location makes it a prime candidate for retail development, perhaps another big box store. But city leaders and the neighborhood want to save at least the façade of the school. That was made clear when the administration of former Mayor Scott Avedisian sought bids.
Now the city is advertising the sale of the school, situated on 11 acres, again. Solicitation for bids makes no mention of preserving the building, but rather in an introduction of the site says, the property “has tremendous mixed-use redevelopment potential.” It goes on to say, “The City’s intention is to sell/lease the property and will consider proposals that are compatible with the surrounding area…”
The city came close to meeting its hope of saving the building in 2018 when the International Charter School (ICS), with its signature dual language program (English/Spanish and English/Portuguese), offered to pay $1.9 million for the building and site. ICS estimated renovating the building would cost another $6.9 million. Although a non-profit, and not subject to taxation, ICS also offered to pay about $90,000 to the city. The teachers union opposed the sale as did the School Committee in a resolution and, while strongly backed by Avedisian, then City Council President Joseph Solomon never brought it before the council for a vote thereby killing a deal.
“It’s exciting to see it’s up bid and I’m hoping for lots of bids from qualified bidders who would be good neighbors,” Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix said in a call Sunday. “Last time around a large majority of the neighbors were in favor of a charter school. I think a charter school would certainly be welcome,” he added.
Rix is hopeful of a plan that would save the former school building as well as provide some area for neighborhood recreational use. He could see the repurposing of the school for condominiums, as was done with Lockwood Junior High School following its closure. Mayor Frank Picozzi mentioned Lockwood when talking of preferred uses for Aldrich. Both Rix and Picozzi oppose demolition of the building as the site for a big box retailer.
“The highest priority is to make sure that any buyer would have a plan for an excellent fit with the neighborhood,” said Rix. He feels that a use compatible to the neighborhood should be a priority when selecting a buyer even if that is not the highest bid.
In its solicitation for bids, the city Planning Department suggests possible subdivisions for 17 single family homes on the property behind the school. City Planner Tom Kravtiz said Monday the three possible subdivision layouts are offered to give developers an idea of what could be done with the property. There are lots more options than residential. The solicitation says the property is zoned Residential A-7. And goes on to list potential uses including but not limited to: market-rate loft-style residential units, assisted living facility, multi-family units, general office uses, services uses, limited indoor/outdoor recreational facility, restaurants (with or without liquor license), retail, recreation center, charter schools and day care facility. Limited light industry, specifically, assembling and packaging of articles is also a possibility.
The solicitation package 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.
What does Kravitz think Aldrich will sell for?
“Right now with interest rates and cost, who knows,” he said. On the one hand there’s a scarcity of houses on the market that has pushed prices to new highs, on the other climbing interest rates and increased cost of materials and labor has put a dampener on new construction.
Vacant school properties would appear to offer opportunities. John Wickes School on Child Lane just off Main Avenue was razed last summer and Link Commercial Properties, is working on approval of a 39-house development. It sold for $1.2 million. Link is the high bidder of the former Randall Holden School, which the city has once planned to lease or sell to Westbay Community Action until it met neighborhood resistance. Link bid $1.3 million for the property that could be developed for about 22 single family homes, Kravitz said. He said a closing is set for April 5.
The former Buttonwoods School that was converted into a senior center and later after closing re-purposed as the City Hall Annex is yet another potential residential or mixed use development. The Buttonwoods property consists of six lots with a total of 1.8 acres. The site is “split zoned” between Residential A-7 and general business. Shore Line Properties with a bid of $600,000 was the high bidder for that property. Plans for a development have not been submitted.
The former Christopher Rhodes property behind Aldrich was purchased before the pandemic by Fisher Homes. The site was cleared, but before construction of a 30-unit housing development started, president of the company, Hugh Fisher died. On Nov. 23, 2022 it sold to Rhodes Development, LLC of Exeter for $1.3 million. Kravitz said everything is in place for the Rhodes development to start.
The former School administration building on Warwick Avenue is also in Kravitz’s sights. The property was advertised at the same time as Randall Holden, but Kravitz held off on recommending a sale because of what he considered a low bid and possible issues relating to the historic importance of the former school portion of the property.
Aldrich is on top of the pile now.
Sealed bids will be received by the city’s Purchasing Division up until 4:00pm on Monday, May 22, 2023. The bids will be opened publicly on that same day in City Council Chambers at the Public Properties Committee Meeting at 6:30 p.m.
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