NORTH SMITHFIELD – With an original plan for housing units at Andrews Mill to be move-in ready by the second half of 2024, representatives from NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley said that the COVID-19 pandemic has really delayed the project.
Their proposal, which was originally released in 2021, was to create 76 affordable units for low-income housing.
The original $27 million project saw the Woonsocket-based non-profit purchase the property for $300,000 in 2018. The complex would feature 124 parking spaces, and 15 of the 76 units would be reserved for residents who earn 30 percent of the area median income.
The original structure, built in 1918, housed the Andrews Mill Company Plant.
“The pandemic really delayed development across the board,” Meghan Rego, communications director at Neighborhood, told The Breeze.
In late 2021, NeighborWorks was seeking a brownfields grant of $650,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that would allow the organization to begin cleaning up the historic mill. However, Rego said they will have to keep applying for additional grants for remediation of the property as COVID also caused original construction estimates to skyrocket.
As of 2021, the developers were also concerned about cleaning out the asbestos from a previous property owner who committed many property violations. The non-profit has also made some repairs to the roof in the hopes they can eventually install solar panels.
According to Rego, NeighborWorks has currently been dedicating their time to the Millrace District project, which is the restoration of three historic mills and the cleanup of a brownfield to create a 70-unit rental project in downtown Woonsocket.
“That’s where our current priority is,” she stated.
NeighborWorks participated in a semester-long program last year in which students from the Rhode Island School of Design were asked to contribute to design plans in the development of Andrews Mill. According to Rego, the experience generated important conversations and helped students learn the impact on community development.
”This was truly a brainstorming session for the students, ideas raised will be shared with the future architect hired to design the project as a creative jumping off point,” she said.
Rego said NeighborWorks still has to seek public comment on their proposal.
Of significant concern is the need to remove asbestos from the mill’s interior. Vandals have broken into the building to steal copper wire and other materials numerous times, disturbing asbestos in the process.
The Andrews Mill first became part of the region’s industrial landscape in 1918 when the Andrews Mill Company acquired the site. The company produced wool products, at one time employing about 200 people. The complex included a machine shop that still exists on the adjacent Branch River.
In 1955, the Tupperware Corporation began using the building as an office and laboratory. Blue and white aluminum siding was installed, giving the building a more modern appearance and hiding the brick beneath. A recycling company, Coastal Recycling, later purchased the property and used the building’s back lot to store trash hauled to the property.
Unfortunately, Covid did stop a lot of construction jobs. They have to clean up other people's mess, so give it time. A lot of people said that of the Slater mill, now look at it. Don't give up on it. It will be a nice addition to the Branch River area.
Funny how anytime a project takes too long or cost too much its always a Covid issue, aren't we all getting tired of that same old excuse?
This is just insane how long the town is allowing this decrepit building to stay like this. This building needs to go and the town needs to make this a priority immediately! Quite embarrassing at this point.
Knock it down or clean it up.......it's an EYESORE !
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