Council jubilant with sale of Rhodes School

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The Warwick City Council on Monday night approved the sale of the former Christopher Rhodes Elementary School to Hugh Fisher for $325,000. Fisher plans to demolish the derelict property at his own expense in order to build approximately 29 single-family dwellings, a proposal that garnered widespread praise from city officials and residents.

“I'm incredibly excited tonight to present recommendation for approval,” said planning director Bill DePasquale ahead of introducing the item for a vote, first by the public properties and land use committee and then by the whole city council. The measure passed unanimously 8-0, with Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis being absent due to an illness.

The sale comes nearly two full years after the city first issued an RFP for the sale of the Rhodes building, during which time the city opted to conduct an environmental hazards study and appraisal of the property on their own accord in order to strengthen their negotiations.

What resulted from their efforts, and subsequent conversations with Fisher, wound up being an increase in the bid, from $117,000 for the purchase of the property as is during the summer of 2017, to the $325,000 bid that was approved – “a gain of $208,000 to the city,” as described by Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix, who sponsored and led the efforts to do something with the building after sitting vacant for more than 10 years.

Calling the building as it sits right now a “death trap,” Rix exalted the team effort between the city and neighborhood residents that led to Monday night’s approval.

“It turns a nuisance to neighbors, a financial liability to the city...into an asset to this city, expanding the tax base and it improves the neighborhoods, brings up property values and removes the nuisance,” Rix said.

Ward 1 Councilman Richard Corley said that Fisher opting to finance the some $635,000 in hazardous mitigation of the property – which includes things like asbestos abatement in the old school, and the removal of an oil tank from the property – is a large burden that the city will now not have to worry about.

City Council President Steve Merolla was relieved that, should there be any unexpected environmental hazards discovered once Fisher starts digging into the land to develop it, those expenses will not be born by the city, and such language is written into the contract. He praised the council’s patience to not jump at the first offer they saw back in 2017 – which happened at a time when the increasingly dilapidating building had already gone out to bid multiple times without any significant bites.

“When you look at the big picture of how government is supposed to work, I think this is a good example of it,” Merolla said. “You had a council that was asking questions and a previous administration that thought they had put the best offer on the table. And this council, and also the finance committee and chair and also the sponsor from his own area, recognized that we could do better.”

Finance committee chair and Ward 5 Council Ed Ladouceur concurred with that notion.

“I think this is a perfect example of what we mean when we say good things happen to those who wait,” he said.

Ward 7 Councilman Stephen McAllister focused not only on the infusion of dollars the new development will bring to the city, but also the infusion of people.

“This is very exciting,” he said. “We're going to generate residential property tax revenue, which is always needed, but new housing will also attract new families...This really is a win-win.”

Originally operating as an elementary school for about 70 years, the Christopher Rhodes School closed in 2008 and sat vacant for a year before being rented out by the Rhode Island School for the Deaf for another two years. Since their departure in 2011, the building has sat vacant and been subject to vandalism and break-ins.

Rix mentioned a neighborhood meeting in the summer of 2017 after the bid was publicized that showed the widespread approval of residents who wanted something to be done with the building.

“There was not a single person who was against this proposal,” he said. “It is very rare to find that kind of unanimity on anything of such consequence as the sale and development of 10 acres in a neighborhood.”

Two residents in the neighborhood expressed their approval and excitement over the project but also their concerns. One asked if there were plans to protect against a sinkhole in the wetlands near the area that claimed the life of a child in the 1980s. Fisher ensured that the area in question was on his radar and he’d incorporate a barrier of sorts into the construction plans.

Another resident expressed concern about potentially pushing rodents occupying the property into the surrounding neighborhood once the building is demolished. Fisher said ensuring that rodents and other pests are addressed was a standard part of the demolition and construction process.

“Any time we have to tear a building down we have to get a demolition permit from the city. One of the requirements is we have to [be aware of] pest problems that could persist at the time,” he said. “We will address that right up front. We'll have the proper pest people take care of it.”

Comments

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richard corrente

Major accomplishment.

Congratulations to Councilman Rix, Chief-of-Staff and Planning Director Bill DePasquale, Mayor Solomon, and especially builder/developer Hugh Fisher. This is a win-win-win for the taxpayers, the City, and Mr. Fisher. A "ton" of work went into it. A "ton" of value will come out of it. (And a "ton" of tax revenue too). Council President Steve Merolla said this is "how government should work." He was right.

Happy St. Patricks everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Thursday, February 28
justanidiot

absolutelee a win. the more we ken due to make warwick less friendly to famblies, the better we will be. warwick is on track to become the villages of the north

Thursday, February 28
Hillsgrove Hal

If there are 29 new homes and they are assessed at $300,000 each (which is not guaranteed), that's $8.7 million in value, isn't it? And multiplying that $8.7 million assessment by the city's tax rate of $20.80 per $1,000 = $180,960, doesn't it?

The city budget is $316 million, so that amounts to 0.05% of the budget.

We just heard last night that the city may be facing a $12 million deficit in the next year, so any new revenue wouldn't do anything about that, even if the city received it within the next 12 months -- which it won't.

I am glad to see new development at the Rhodes school, but any promises of massive tax relief are premature and incorrect.

Thursday, February 28
richard corrente

Dear HillsgroveHal,

Question:

Is this a step in the right direction or not?

Friday, March 1
PaulHuff

I knew there was a swampy area between the school but wasn't aware of the childs death in the 80's. Does anyone have any information on it?

Christopher Rhodes is/was a famous early resident of Warwick. Is there going to be anything in the new development to remember him...such as name the street after him or something like that?

Friday, March 1
Hillsgrove Hal

richard corrente, I said I am glad to see the new development.

Beyond that, I'm not going to play word games with you.

Friday, March 1
richard corrente

Dear Paul Huff,

GREAT IDEA!!

Friday, March 1
wwkvoter

Hal how much will those same 29 homes cost in total services each year do you think?

Friday, March 1
Hillsgrove Hal

wwkvoter, at best I think any new development is a wash financially.

New students in schools (which means more busing, more teachers, and more wear and tear on buildings), new sewer and water customers (which means more use of the existing systems and more maintenance as they're used more), and new people who need fire and police protection -- that all means increased costs.

Those costs simply will not be covered by whatever taxes the new homeowners pay -- and even if they are, the difference will not be anywhere near big enough to provide tax relief for other people.

Friday, March 1
richard corrente

Dear wwkvoter and HillsgroveHal, who I believe are the same person,

Dear Mark,

The added costs are pennies. No one is going to demand a raise just because their students increased by a few. If we were at capacity, that would be another question but Warwick is far below capacity. The new tax revenue won't be offset by any noticeable increase in expenses and any former Chief-of-Staff knows that. So does everyone else.

Happy St. Patricks everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Monday, March 4
Hillsgrove Hal

richard corrente, you will clearly believe anything you make up in your own head, so I'll just leave you to your stupid fantasies.

Monday, March 4
richard corrente

Dear Mark,

Touched a nerve?

Here's a word of advice. Don't ever play poker for money. You give off too many tells.

Rick

Tuesday, March 5
Hillsgrove Hal

richard corrente, who is this "Mark" person you think I am? You also say you think I'm wwkvoter.

Neither of those are true, but I've already seen in the last week and a half that facts mean nothing to you.

You talk about "tells" in poker; the only thing your comments "tell" is how correct everyone else on this website is about you.

Tuesday, March 5
John Stark

Hmmm. The building has sat vacant for eight years, and now everyone is dislocating their shoulders in an attempt to pat one another on the back. Glad it has sold, but this is a ten acre asset that has not generated a nickel for the city in a very long time. Perhaps best to keep the champagne corked for now.

Wednesday, March 6
Hillsgrove Hal

richard corrente, I hardly knew your name two weeks ago, but now I know that you are just a very angry person.

I suggest you seek professional psychiatric help, because you have serious personal issues.

Sunday, March 10