Planned Hero Building in jeopardy as grants fail to come through

Planned Hero Building in jeopardy as grants fail to come through

Erik Deneault, standing in the front stairwell of the old E.A. Brayton School, says the cost of converting the building into a center for nonprofit groups may prove too costly, but he’s going to try to raise the money needed over the next few months. (Breeze photos by Ethan Shorey)
Deneaults kick off last-ditch crowdfunding effort

NORTH PROVIDENCE – A local couple looking to turn the old E.A. Brayton School in Centredale into a modern center for nonprofit organizations say they aren’t yet giving up on their dream, despite continued setbacks.

North Providence residents Erik and Dawn Deneault have zeroed in on a last-ditch strategy for transforming the former brick schoolhouse into the “Hero Building.” They’ve started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $1 million needed for the project.

Erik Deneault conceded that he and his wife are running out of options on overhauling the dilapidated brick building. Cost estimates have skyrocketed, and grant funding has failed to come through. Deneault said he hates to talk about walking away from the project, but with the “money problem” the project is facing, he and his wife may not have a choice.

The issue now is that a complete rehab is needed, Deneault posted in his online plea for the community’s help. “Replace the old knob and tube electric, replace the roof, replace all the windows, remove all the lead, remove and clear all the asbestos, install an elevator, or at least a chair lift.

“They need a new parking lot, and outside landscape, new fence, and fresh paint. All this and then a complete build-out of the interior. New offices, security ... everything ...”

The Deneaults reached a deal with town officials in December of 2015 on two years of rent-free use of the building. In return, the couple pledged to restore the building and convert it into a hub for nonprofit groups, including their Little Heroes Fund, which donates equipment and other items to children with special needs.

“We’d still really like to give back to the community,” said Deneault this week.

Erik Deneault originally guessed that the cost of the rehab would come in at about $400,000 on the high end, but experts now tell him that high number could approach $1 million. It would cost about $600,000 just to get the building move-in ready, he said. Cost estimates vary drastically depending on what’s included. For instance, a full elevator would cost $150,000 while a simple chairlift would cost about $15,000.

Deneault contacted town officials last week to talk about the situation he and his wife are facing with the project and to tell them that the couple is still committed to making it happen. He said he originally thought he and his wife could “piece it together” to develop the Hero Building, but have since learned that goal simply isn’t feasible. Grants in general seem to be drying up, he said, making the challenge that much more difficult.

Mayor Charles Lombardi said this week he appreciates what the Deneaults are trying to do and said he has no plans to try to take the building back. As long as the Deneaults have the property, the town is saving $14,000 or so in annual upkeep costs, he said.

Deneault, who worked with others last year to do some interior demolition work at the property, said he wants to continue talking with town officials about ways the town might help with the project. He said it’s not worth it right now to continue with renovations without having funding for the entire project in place.

The December 2015 deal with the town gave the Deneaults two years free of rent, with negotiated lease payments starting at the end of those two years. With the project now in doubt, the couple would likely need an extension on the free use.

The 1930 Brayton School has been vacant since 2009. It is located at 2 Thomas St., within easy sight of the Hopscotch Room Village, a high-end development designed to reshape the Centredale village.

In addition to Little Heroes, the Hero Building would be home to Best Buddies, Children’s Wish, a suicide prevention agency, and others.

Erik Deneault says the building at 2 Thomas St. in North Providence needs close to $1 million in work.