Randall Holden School is to have a new life as offices for Westbay Community Action under an agreement worked out between Mayor Joseph J. Solomon and Paul Salera, president and CEO of the agency serving residents of Warwick, East Greenwich, West Warwick and Coventry.
Salera said the plan is to move all operations, about 40 programs from job training, the working wardrobe and heating fuel assistance to the Retired Senior Services Program (RSVP) – with the exception of administrative offices, from its Buttonwoods Avenue location that is part of a shopping plaza that includes Ocean State Job Lot and Workout World. Westbay Market, that provides food to the low income, would also make the move.
Salera has been looking to relocate Westbay for several years in an effort to provide additional space for operations and, up until the Buttonwoods Community Center was closed by former mayor Scott Avedisian, had leased offices there for its job training program. When Avedisian closed Buttonwoods, which Solomon made a priority to reopen when he became mayor, Salera wanted to buy it for Westbay but backed away when he learned of the cost of repairs.
When the School Committee closed Holden and John Wickes Schools as part of consolidation, Salera was interested in Wickes, which is on Child Lane off Main Avenue and not all that far from Westbay’s current location. After Solomon became mayor, Salera took a tour of Wickes and he was actively considering it.
Salera said Solomon has been sensitive to the needs of the agency and efforts to put its programs under a single roof.
“He’s been a true partner with Westbay,” Salera said. “Westbay Community Action has already had a very productive working relationship with my administration and the city,” Solomon said in a statement. “Paul Salera and his hardworking staff do tremendous work, and this will only serve to strengthen our shared efforts to provide good quality services and programs for those in need. I am excited to offer them the ability to consolidate those services into one convenient location for their clients. This collaboration would also generate annual revenue for the city from a property that has been tax exempt since the school was built.”
Salera crossed Wickes off his list in the last month after talking with Solomon and visiting Holden.
“We fell in love with it,” he said of Holden.
He also abandoned the thought of buying a property, as there would be no financial advantage to doing so. Westbay owns its administrative offices on Buttonwoods Avenue across from the plaza that houses the bulk of its programs.
Salera said Westbay’s lease with Stop & Shop, owner of the plaza, expires in February. His aim would be to move to Holden by January.
While the details of a city lease for Holden haven’t been finalized, Salera said the agency would be paying no more for the school than its current lease. He put that at between $120,000 and $150,000 a year. He said he would like the building “for as many years as the city will have us.” When reached, the agreement would require City Council approval.
Salera called the school well suited for its clients, being a short walk from Warwick Avenue and Hoxsie Four Corners and in close proximity to bus service, Dave’s Marketplace and the businesses of Gateway Shopping Plaza and the corners. The offices of about 50 employees would be housed in the school giving “a true one-stop shop for our people.”
The agency, which opened in 1966 in the national effort to fight poverty, assists about 22,000 clients annually.
Salera said his intent would be to keep the school’s all-purpose room available for community use for basketball games and other activities. The auditorium could similarly be used by the community as well as the fields, which he expects would be maintained by the city.
Overall, the school offers more space than Westbay’s current offices, but there are no plans for Westbay to expand operations. The agency would not relocate Westbay Children’s Center that is on Astral Street.
Salera said the school is ready to move in and that Westbay would not be looking for the city to make renovations prior to a move. He said the school would need window units for the air conditioning that the school lacks.
Not all of the school will be used by Westbay. Department of Public Works crews were busy Friday making renovations to a wing for those city offices remaining at the former Greene School on Draper Avenue. Locks were being installed on restroom doors and child-sized toilets were being traded out for larger ones. The offices for personnel, community development and MIS, still at Greene, are expected to make the move as the fate of the City Hall Annex that was forced the close because of a burst water pipe in January 2018 remains unresolved.
Randall Holden has already proven to be a valuable community asset. When a burst hot water pipe during the Thanksgiving Day recess forced St. Kevin School to close, the school was temporarily relocated to Holden. The school was again used in April by Vision Government Solutions as a meeting place for property owners with questions about their revaluations.