Kendall Dean, AFGS and Riverzedge get $510K in grants for arts, preservation

Kendall Dean, AFGS and Riverzedge get $510K in grants for arts, preservation

State bonds approved by voters in 2014 have resulted in grants for several local projects focused on historic preservation and art, with a total of $510,000 awarded to three local organizations.

The largest share will go to Riverzedge Arts Project, where a $249,000 State Cultural Facilities Grant will be used to to turn the former Second Avenue Elementary School in Fairmount into the organization’s permanent home.

A preservation grant of $111,000 will help to fund installation of an elevator at the American French Genealogical Society/Veterans Memorial Museum building on Earle Street.

And in North Smithfield, $150,000 in state preservation funds will give a needed boost to a project planned for the former Kendall Dean school, with money to go toward architectural details such as trim, flooring and windows.

“There’s plenty there to apply this money to,” Town Planner Tom Kravitz said of the project to renovate the building.

It was Kravitz’s predecessor, former planner Robert Ericson, who applied for the award, administered by the R.I. Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission. Built in 1936, the structure is currently vacant as town officials iron out plans to spend the $5.2 million municipal facilities bond also approved in 2014 by North Smithfield voters.

The project saw a recent setback when bids for work to the Green Street building, as well as the town annex and Municipal Town Hall, came in roughly $1 million over budget. Town Councilors told the board working on renovation plans earlier this month to cease and desist, appointing a new group to look over their progress.

The latest boost in funding may add some urgency to the new board’s assessment. Kravitz said the town will likely enter a contract with RIHPHC in March, with a two-year deadline to spend the funds. He’s assigned Assistant Planner Bobby Monahan to the task, and Monahan plans to meet with members of Municipal Building Review Task Force to work out the details.

“We have to look at the project and say ‘where does this stand? How do we regroup and relaunch as quickly as possible?’” said Kravitz. “The project might have to get adjusted for Kendall Dean.”

All preservation bond-financed work, the new planner noted, must meet federal historical renovation standards set forth by the secretary of the Department of the Interior.

“We’re going to meet whatever time frame they give us,” Kravitz noted. “We’ll be working on this diligently.”

Ericson noted in the application that Kendall Dean is a contributing structure in the Slatersville National Historic District, which will be part of a new National Park.

“The significant threat is that the town will abandon it and construct a new municipal center on another site,” noted the form, signed by former Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton. “Even after the bond was approved by voters in November 2014, a vocal minority continued to call for its abandonment.”

It was in the same year that 60 percent of Rhode Island voters approved the Creative and Cultural Economy Bonds providing $5 million for State Preservation Grants and $6.5 million for the Cultural Facilities Grants. As a result, the state will award close to $3.8 million for capital preservation work at 33 museums, cultural art centers, and public historic sites in 17 cities and towns through the latest round of grants. Together, the projects represent $16,736,891 worth of construction activity.

An additional grant round is scheduled in 2017.

At AFGS, the grant will help to solve an immediate challenge created by the opening of the Veterans Memorial Museum on the building’s second floor in 2015. The building was constructed in 1924 by the First Univeralist Church of Woonsocket, and AFGS purchased it after the church closed in 2007. Persons with disabilities have had difficulty entering the building because there are stairs at all three entrances.

“Our goal for many years has been to provide access to everyone who visits our building,” said AFGS president Normand T. Deragon. “This grant will not only allow us to reach that goal but also expand the education and cultural programs we will offer to the public. It will also allow to provide full access to the veterans museum located on the upper floor of the building” said Deragon.

Deragon credited Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt with encouraging the organization to apply for the grant.

“The American-French Genealogical Society is a beloved institution in the Woonsocket community that connects our City’s rich history with our present day and our future,” said Baldelli-Hunt. “The grant represents a strategic investment in the infrastructure of the Franco-American Heritage Center that will have a dramatic benefit to the organization and it was a pleasure to aid them during the process.”

The competitive grants program requires all recipients to provide matching funds, and Deragon said a campaign will be launched soon to raise money to meet it.

Riverzedge, meanwhile, will cover Phase I investments of a five-year capital improvement plan for their new permanent Second Avenue home with the grant. The organization took temporary refuge in the building in 2014 after their former Market Square headquarters inside Le Moulin was condemned.

In 2015, the city sold the former school, which had been vacant for more than a decade, to the organization for $10.

Investments funded by the award cover ADA compliance, roof replacement, fire and smoke protection/suppression, heating, ventilating and air conditioning, as well as important steps toward revitalization and reuse as a community arts anchor, like reorienting the entrance to make the building more accessible and inviting, according to Executive Director Rebekah Greenwald.

“Riverzedge is immensely grateful and excited about this investment in our little corner of Rhode Island, because the necessary upgrades and modern updates it makes possible translate exponentially into positive outcomes in education, employment, and quality of life for thousands of Woonsocketers now and to come, as well as the health, aesthetics and economic prospects of Fairmount – one of Woonsocket’s most distressed arenas,” Greenwald said.