CUMBERLAND – The Amaral Building on Mill Street is that “little building that could,” say town representatives, the last remaining building here from the photos of a century ago, even predating Cumberland Town Hall on Broad Street next door.
Inside the old post office are the sights and smells of neglect, to the untrained eye, a reason for demolition, while to the appreciative visitor, offering plenty of prospects for preservation.
The town’s newly acquired $1 million Community Development Block Grant will help take the restoration of this historic building from concept to reality, the first real sign, says the woman who will eventually staff it, Community Outreach Coordinator Sarah King, that the dream of creating a new community resource center here will actually happen.
“It feels real,” said King, smiling from ear to ear.
“It was always just an idea, now we can make it happen,” said Town Planner Glenn Modica as he and King gave a tour of the building last Friday.
So many people have distinct memories from the various phases of this building, said King, and quite a number have expressed great interest in its future and preserving it.
There is so much potential here, said King, with the planned community center expected to tie together so much of the other investment that’s happening in the area, from the Ann & Hope Mill to the Broad Street reconstruction, revamped Valley Falls Heritage Park across the street to the new vibrant Central Falls Landing across the Blackstone River.
Mayor Jeffrey Mutter said he was thrilled last week to announce that the town had secured the $1 million CDBG grant from the State Office of Housing and Community Development for the adaptive reuse of the old post office at 16 Mill St. to create the Town’s first Community Based Health and Outreach Center.
“I am happy to announce this CDBG award which will allow us to take a vacant town-owned property which has previously supported the Valley Falls area as a post office, library, and grocery store and return it to a vibrant community hub for this neighborhood and Cumberland as a whole,” said Mutter in a statement.
The total cost of the project is estimated at about $1.8 million, and in addition to seeking another grant that funds community health centers to “piggyback” on this award, the town could also use some of its American Rescue Plan Act funds for the job.
King and Modica said they envision shared community space on the first floor, with more open areas to be used by rotating organizations, while office uses would be the focal point on the more segmented second floor, allowing agencies such as town EMS to operate there. A restroom would be on each floor, and the second-floor kitchen would be redone.
Outside, there are a number of options for increasing parking and potentially creating some usable outdoor space.
The Amaral Building, built circa 1890, is a two-story, brick building with corbelled cornice adjacent to Cumberland Town Hall. The property is .175 acres, and the 34-foot by 40-foot building has 2,720 square feet of living area.
The building retains its architectural integrity with most of its original double-hung windows and original wood storefront windows framed by cast iron columns, states a town synopsis. The interior retains original wood flooring, and lath and plaster walls and ceilings. The Amaral Building, also known as the old post office, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing resource to the Town Hall Historic District and is in a locally-designated historic district.
The building may have originally served as a company store for the Valley Falls Company, which operated a major textile factory across the street along the Blackstone River in what is now Valley Falls Heritage Park, say town officials. During the early 20th century, a portion of the building housed a post office and library. By 1921, Portuguese immigrants Ezequiel Pires and Seraphim Cardanha converted the ground floor to a grocery store and added a three-bedroom apartment above. The firm of Pires & Cardanha split in 1937, and the building was sold to Joaquim and Maria Amaral, who continued to operate the store and live in the apartment above from the early 1940s to 1988. Two pairs of pants found among the clutter on the second floor during a tour of the building last Friday found “J. Amaral” drawn in marker on the inside.
By 1990 the building had been abandoned, and in 2007 the Neves family (related to the Amarals) sold the building to the town of Cumberland. The town replaced the roof and abated asbestos. In 2015, the town removed the exterior staircase to the east, and the only access to the second floor is now to reach that side via a ladder. The planned new stairs will also likely be outside, according to the town.
The new community center would strive to improve health outcomes and engagement levels by partnering with local non-profits and civic groups to connect neighbors with resources, each other, and the community.
“As we strive to build a stronger, healthier community this physical space will allow us to leverage our existing strategic relationships and expand our successful community paramedicine model to meet our residents where they are at and provide support to those who need it most,” said Mutter.
Cumberland Emergency Medical Services (CEMS) has created a groundbreaking community paramedicine model that provides a host of preventative healthcare services to the Cumberland community, he said. Through this new center, CEMS would be able to expand offerings such as inoculations, wellness screenings, blood pressure tests, cholesterol screenings, etc. to be held on a regular basis and reach more individuals.
“The mission for this center aligns with Cumberland Emergency Medical Services’ mission of providing accessible, innovative care to our residents to improve health outcomes across our community. This project will elevate community paramedicine and help reach our most at-risk residents,” noted CEMS Chief John Pliakas.
Additional services and programs would be offered on a regular basis including, affordable housing assistance, food insecurity support, physical activity programming, domestic violence prevention, veterans’ services, job training, and access to high-speed internet/laptops.
King said she can envision a comfortable space where people could simply come to get work done. It will meet a need and be a nice space for residents to use, she said, having an inviting atmosphere rather than a clinical feel.
The building has great light throughout, said Modica and King, and the great old doors and windows will be repaired and maintained. They said the town plans to maintain as much as possible of the old building’s charm, while replacing all plumbing and other inner workings.
Modica said they plan to hopefully hire an architect by the end of the calendar year, with construction starting next year.
Last December, the town of Cumberland received a $10,000 grant from the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission for a conditions assessment, which was completed this past spring. This assessment addressed architectural design, historic preservation, and ADA accessibility. With the award of the Community Development Block Grant, the town will now assemble a building committee to begin to execute the elements of the assessment.