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State to make armory safer
The project to replace and repair deteriorating masonry and balconies could cost as much as $600,000.
State officials are taking steps to stablize and protect the 97-year-old Cranston Street Armory even though its future remains uncertain, in the wake of last November's failed bond issue.
The statewide bond issue would have allowed for a massive renovation of the Armory and its planned reuse by the state.
The project was included in a $15.3-million measure that would have also paid for other preservation projects.
Instead, state officials are looking to finish maintenance projects on the building: Today they are holding a pre-bid meeting as a precursor to hiring a contractor to do "critical" masonry work on the building's exterior, said Bob Brunnell, associate director for capital projects in the state Department of Administration.
That job, which could cost around $600,000, will include repairing shaky balconies and other badly deteriorating sections of the brick structure in the city's West End.
Many years ago, one of the brick and terra cotta balconies fell to the ground, but no one was injured.
That led state officials to call for an aerial inspection. That investigation found several areas where the mortar had eroded entirely, Brunnell said.
Contractors will work to fix those gaps by repointing the bricks or having them replaced, he said.
"We're very disappointed that the bond issue didn't pass," Brunell said this week. "That, we thought, would resolve" the structural issues at the Armory.
Brunnell said there is money left in the current state budget to pay for an upgrade of a portion of the Armory's fire-alarm system. However, the money is not enough to upgrade the system throughout the entire building, just as the money left for masonry work is not enough to make all those exterior repairs.
Facilities officials are also uncertain about the future of the Armory, given that money to maintain it has not been set aside for next fiscal year.
"We don't have any money . . . to continue to make improvements," Brunnell said. "That's a problem we have to look at."
With voters having rejected the bond issue, state lawmakers have not set aside money in the capital budget for maintaining the Armory, as had been done in recent years, Brunnell said.
State officials had unsuccessfully lobbied for the passage of the bond issue, noting that the state's leases of more than 58 properties are costing the public millions.
Supporters argued that they could save taxpayer money by using vacant or underused state-owned buildings and getting out of many of the building leases.
The Armory, located in a residential area between Cranston and Westminster streets, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
For many years, it was home to the Rhode Island National Guard. However, in 1996 the Guard moved to a newer facility in East Greenwich.
Local residents – led by the West Broadway Neighborhood Association – have since lobbied state and city officials to preserve the building and find a new use for it.
A plan to have filmmaker Michael Corrente convert the castle-like building into a soundstage for film, video and television failed due to a lack of funding.
Proposals to have state archives and other state offices locate there were dependent on the building renovation project. Currently, the state is using a portion of the building for storage.
"Essentially, what we want to do is stablize the exterior of the building and try to prevent any more failures," Brunnell said. "We hope to stabilize and protect the building until we can come up with another viable use."
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