NORTH PROVIDENCE – The relocation of the North Providence School Department central offices from their current location at 2240 Mineral Spring Ave. to the Old Masonic Temple at 2121 Smith St. will not work for several reasons, says school committee chairman Frank Pallotta.
Pallotta told City Council and Mayor Charles Lombardi last week that buying the building on the Centredale Bypass for $650,000 and investing in improvements for a school headquarters would not qualify for a refund at least 60% by the State.
At the June 7 meeting, Lombardi and council members noted the low asking price for the property, saying it’s still an attractive purchase for the city whether the school department moves there or not.
Pallotta said he supports the idea of abandoning the current school administration headquarters to demolish it and create more parking in Centredale, but prefers the idea of building new central administration offices as part of a larger project that would bring big paybacks. A project at the Masonic Temple would not qualify for refunds because it would not be connected to another building or larger project.
In addition to financial considerations, Pallotta said, there are also concerns that the property at 2121 Smith St. is in a busy, congested area that would not be safe for district staff or families.
School officials are currently exploring the idea of building new central administrative offices either at North Providence High School “and/or” at Ricci Middle School. Pallotta said the work could be done as part of a larger school improvement project, estimated at $25 million, which would include renovations to three remaining older elementary schools, at about $6 million each. With rebates of 60%, this project would cost the city just $10 million, Pallotta said, and incentives could bring the rebate up to 70%.
“It’s a good deal,” he said of the base number.
Before Pallotta spoke at the June 7 council meeting, Mayor Charles Lombardi told council members that whether or not the Masonic Temple is an option, the city needs school department property.
“We need this property to park somehow,” he said. “They have to move because we need this area to park.”
The mayor said he also supports the purchase of the Masonic Temple building whether or not it is used for school offices, a sentiment shared by Centredale business owner Shane Piche, who told council that it made a lot of sense to place the property under city control. Similar to Rhodes on the Pawtuxet, he said he could imagine a kind of “Rhodes on the Woonasquatucket”. Camp Meehan/Notte Park is basically booked all the time now for events, he said, and that would open up new opportunities to bring Centredale to life. There might even be grant opportunities due to the property’s history, he noted.
Lombardi said news from Pallotta that the district had hired an architect to reassess all local schools came as a surprise. Pallotta said he only learned much of the information that day and would meet with experts again to get more details on what it would take to complete a larger project.
According to Pallotta, a plan should be submitted by late August or early September, and if all elected leaders decide that’s the best way forward after school officials come up with a more concrete package that includes drawings and financial figures, with renovations from Whelan, including Greystone and Centredale schools, the district would be “ready for a long time” with its facilities.
Pallotta said new central administrative offices could be built at the back of North Providence High School, and the building could include a lower level storage for equipment related to athletic facilities being redesigned nearby.
Councilor Ron Baccala asked Pallotta if the current school administration offices are maxed out on space, and Pallotta said they are, and any new office should be at least the same 9,200 square feet.
The 8,600 square foot Masonic Temple property is being offered to the city for $650,000.
The council ended up pursuing the question of whether to purchase the Masonic temple building until its next meeting.