As the Providence Water Supply Board moves its administration and customer service offices to its new home at an industrial park off Huntington Ave, questions are being asked about the fate of the iconic building that will soon be empty at 552 Academy Avenue. Rumors were flying that La Salle Academy wants to purchase the property and turn it into a parking lot, and those rumors, it turns out, are true.
At Providence City Councilor Jo-Ann Ryan‘s Ward 5 Monthly Community Meeting, Bonnie Nickerson, director of the Providence Planning Department noted that the “building is listed on the industrial and commercial buildings district which means its been landmarked for its historic value… You’d have to go through a process in order to tear the building down.”
“You go before the city’s historic district commission,” said Nickerson, to show your plans for new development, “and the project is evaluated at that time.”
Al Buco, public property coordinator for the City of Providence, agreed with Nickerson, saying that “there are no real plans yet. We want to hear from the community.”
“But everybody knows that the building’s going to be torn down, that there’s going to be parking for La Salle Academy and there’s going to be a middle school for La Salle,” said a woman in the audience, but until the city decides on what to do with the building, the rumors are just that: rumors.
Thomas Glavin, Vice President of Institutional Advancement at La Salle Academy, a private Catholic school, is a former Providence city councilor and resident of Ward 5. He was invited by Ryan to explain La Salle’s interest.
“Let me tell what’s not going to be there if La Salle is fortunate enough to acquire the property,” said Glavin. “There’s not going to be a middle school there. There’s not going to be a hockey rink there. There’s not going to be a swimming pool there. There’s probably not going to be anything there in the short run. One of the things we’re very concerned about is parking…”
Parking is a big issue at La Salle, and the school is concerned for the safety of its students. Glavin specifically mentioned that his students have “been approached for money from panhandlers” and followed by sketchy individuals as a reason that his students need to be protected.
There was a split among the just under fifty people attending the meeting as to how good a neighbor La Salle Academy has been to the community. While some said La Salle has been an excellent and quiet neighbor, others complained about students and parents blocking driveways during pickup and drop off of students and about the bus traffic. They also said that La Salle has been unresponsive to their concerns.
A parking lot seems like the best use of the land, from La Salle’s point of view since it would have the potential to alleviate some of these issues.
“We’ve spent a considerable amount of time in that building,” said Glavin. “It’s a very old building.”
La Salle, continued Glavin, looked at the building with an eye towards “possibly re-purposing it” or “possibly housing their middle school” and “our engineers and architects advised us that it just wouldn’t work… It’s just not economically feasible.”
But the land as a site for some development beyond parking is not out of the question in the longer term. “At some point in the future the school might have the need to put a building on it but there are no immediate plans,” said Glavin.
Nickerson reminded the audience that no decision has been made by the city as to the fate of the building. If the building is surplussed, an RFP (request for proposal) would be put out publicly to gauge interest.
About 200 of La Salle’s 1,500 students are residents of Providence.