So, what’s good about a school that was built in 1952, closed in 2008 and has become the target of vandals and a blight on a neighborhood?
The answer lies in the eye of the beholder.
For Councilman Jeremy Rix, who inherited the question of what to do with the former Christopher Rhodes School, the building and the future of the property is a rallying point for neighbors that finally has resolution.
For home developer Hugh Fisher, the school and the 10-acre property is an opportunity to build 30 homes in a city he grew up in and where he still lives today.
For Mayor Joseph Solomon, the sale of the property for $325,000 is added income for the city, but, more importantly, the Fisher development will be returning property to the tax rolls.
And then for Michael Mollicone of the JR Vinagro company based in Johnston, the school represents more than simply another demolition job.
Rix, Fisher, Solomon and Mollicone were all in front of the school Thursday morning at 8:40. Nearby, the diesel engine of a giant piece of equipment with a clawed bucket extending from an arm hummed. It was ready to go to work.
Mollicone gave the signal and one of the Vinagro crew climbed into the cab. The engine growled. The arm came to life and the bucket opened like the jaws of a Tyrannosaurus rex. The school was no match for the dinosaur. It bit into the wall of the all-purpose room. Bricks tumbled, exposing a steal beam. On the second pass, the jaws locked on the beam, lifting it as easily as a toothpick. The beam now bent was placed to one side. Tractor treads came to life, and with determination the machine clanked forward, now raising the arm as a battering ram. It barely brushed the metal roofing extending along the walkway to the school entrance. The roof caved in and, like a string of dominos, the rest of the structure collapsed. The jaw snapped shut on the metal sheeting, moving its new home next to the beam.
The process of segregating materials had already started, explained Mollicone.
Not much of the former school is going to go to waste. The bricks and even the cement will be recycled, as will the wood and the metal. The debris will get trucked to Vinagro’s plant. Wood will be chipped up and sold as fuel for a wood-burning power plant. Bricks will be salvaged and cement crushed into gravel-sized pieces used as a building material. The beams will get cut up into blocks and sold along with the rest of the scrap metal. Mollicone estimates 90 percent of the school debris will be recycled.
With the school gone, Fisher and his team will start work on a road – an extension of Sherwood Avenue – that will run down the center of the site. Sarah Fisher, Hugh’s daughter and senior vice president of h.a. Fisher Homes, said the next step would be site preparation.
In a September Planning Board meeting, he said the single-homes would sell in the range of $300,000 and be built in phases, with a model home being the first to go up. Fisher has built more than 1,500 single-family homes and condominiums in Rhode Island, keying in on what he has coined as “woman-centric” homes where floor plans and rooms are customized to the choice of the buyer. He said the homes would range from 1,500 to 2,000 square feet.
“The neighbors have been very involved in this process from start to finish,” Rix said Monday.
He said about 100 different people who live in the area attended one of the City Council, Planning Board or community meetings or have written feedback.
“While not everyone is 100 percent happy with all of the details, everyone who participated was fully in agreement with the need to demolish the old building and that single-family homes as proposed by Fisher Homes is an excellent use of the land. It’s rare to see that kind of unity in a neighborhood on any major issue. I feel that we were able to see that unity because people were treated with respect. Questions were answered honestly, concerns were discussed, and productive compromises were reached,” Rix said.
CHEWING IT UP: Bite by bite, the Rhodes School was reduced to rubble to make room for 30 single-family homes.