Beacon plans arts center for former Federal Street church

Beacon plans arts center for former Federal Street church

Beacon Charter Schools have purchased the former First United Methodist Church on Federal Street and plan to turn it into an arts center. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

WOONSOCKET – The Beacon Charter Schools have purchased the former First United Methodist Church at 27 Federal St. and are planning to expand to the vacant space.

Samantha Baffoni, logistics and communications coordinator for the charter school system, confirmed to The Breeze last week they plan to use the property as an arts center and gathering space for future school events. While there’s no set timeline as of yet, school staff are tentatively referring to the project as the “Beacon Charter Center for the Arts.”

“We are very excited about the church property,” she said. “We envision the church as being a common gathering space to hold our weekly whole-school town meetings and theater performances.”

Along with a theater, the school plans to transform the former church into a kitchen space to allow for catered events and performances. Baffoni said they hope to offer “dinner and a show” in the future.

“We are not in any way aspiring to be the Stadium Theatre, or to compete with them; instead, we’re hoping that the church will provide an intimate space for shows and events for our schools and for the community,” she said.

According to the city’s property records, the Beacon Charter School Corp. purchased the former church for $165,000 in 2019. The distinctive white building sits on a quarter-acre of land between Federal and Clinton streets.

Built in 1908, the property was most recently home to The River United Methodist Communities. The group held their final worship service in the building in 2016.

Baffoni said the school system has commissioned some preliminary architectural drawings, but is still working out the funding and partnerships to bring their vision to life. Complicating that challenge is COVID-19, which has forced most of the Beacon community to remain in distance learning since last March.

“With the disruption to school as we once knew it with COVID, we’ve sort of been in survival mode and the project has been on the back burner,” she said. “Aside from that, we have been working to secure funding for the project. Right now, it is not in the budget.”

Baffoni said they’ve been applying for grants and working on capital fundraising campaigns to try and get the project off the ground. Until then, the project remains a future goal for the arts-based charter school.

The project marks the school’s second major expansion since its founding as a high school for the arts in 2003. In 2015, Beacon opened Founders Academy, a middle school program currently based out of 1 Social St., next to the Stadium Theatre. The school, which has no auditorium-style gathering space, has previously used space in the former CYO Center building on Federal Street to hold school-wide events.