Two of Centredale’s biggest developers disagree on Brayton School

Two of Centredale’s biggest developers disagree on Brayton School

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Once a building of historical relevance comes down, there’s no bringing it back, says Brad Aubin, owner of the buildings that make up the Hopscotch Room Village and Tumblesalts Cafe in Centredale.

But why would anyone want to keep a building that serves no useful purpose and is holding up opportunities to create new history, asks Shane Piche, owner and developer of at least four buildings currently being rehabilitated in the area.

The opposing viewpoints of two of Centredale’s top investors are at the center of a debate over whether the old Brayton School, at 2 Thomas St. off Mineral Spring Avenue, should be demolished to make way for parking or somehow be restored into something functional.

The issue came to a head at the North Providence Historic District Commission’s meeting of May 14, where commission members again expressed reluctance to tear the building down.

Mayor Charles Lombardi said it now appears that a majority of people involved with giving input on the building, including the commission members, now feel the structure should stay up, so he’s complying with those wishes. He said he wants to make it perfectly clear that taxpayers don’t have $300,000 or $400,000 to put into the town-owned building, but he is willing to wait to see if someone else might.

Piche contends that it will cost up to $1 million to address all of the building’s problems, including addressing asbestos and repairing a slate roof.

According to Lombardi, there has been some interest from two developers in the past year in the possibility of acquiring the property.

Commission members have cited town ordinances in saying that they must sign off on demolition of any structure within a historic district.

Aubin and his wife, Kristine Teto, sent a letter to the commission urging the preservation of the vacant old school.

Aubin said he’s not thinking about the next two years here, but about the next 50 years and what this district will look like then.

“Once it’s down it’s down,” he said.

He envisions a Faneuil Hall-style building with 20 or so companies doing business in one place, including artists and perhaps community groups. This is a signature building, he said, and every effort should be made to find people willing to redevelop it. He said he wants to see everyone work together to come up with a plan for what they want the building to be, perhaps putting up one of those fundraising thermometers outside of Town Hall and selling decorative bricks to raise money.

Aubin said he thinks the town can still address Piche’s concerns over a lack of parking in the area, perhaps getting creative with angled parking similar to in front of Miller’s Gymnastics. He said he could see development of parking for some 40 cars near the building.

Piche reiterated this week that restoring the building simply isn’t feasible, as any developer will be unable to get a return large enough to cover a $1 million investment. “It just doesn’t equate,” he said. The building is also in no position to be leased out, he said.

Piche said he’s a big supporter of history, but said it’s important to now move on and create a “new history” in Centredale that attracts vibrant business. Nothing should stand in the way of creating what’s quickly becoming a restaurant and entertainment district, he said.