Three Brown properties top endangered list

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Providence Preservation Society has placed three historic Angell Street buildings at the top of its annual Most Endangered Properties List. The May 23 announcement comes as the University continues to consider proposals to relocate or demolish the buildings to make space for a brain sciences building.

The 19th-century buildings – Brown’s Urban Environmental Laboratory and two residences, at 135, 129 and 127 Angell St. respectively – shared first place in a list of 10 sites in Providence.

Moving or demolishing the three buildings would make room for the Mind Brain Behavior Building, which is scheduled for completion in spring 2009. University officials have said they are looking for alternative locations for the three buildings.

Associate Provost Pamela O’Neil said that, though plans “change almost weekly,” the PPS’s listing has compelled the University to look into donating the 127 and 129 Angell Street buildings to someone who would pay to move them.

O’Neil said Brown may be able to provide some funding to the recipient to aid in the moving process.

Sara Emmenecker ’04, director of preservation services at the PPS, said removing the buildings will change the Angell Street streetscape dramatically.

Replacing the three buildings with larger facilities would “completely change the scale” of the neighborhood, Emmenecker said.

“We saw them as significant, not only as historic structures from the 19th century but as providing a historic context of the residential area that once existed.”

Emmenecker said though the University initially proposed approximately 15 relocation sites for the buildings at 127 and 129 Angell St., it has since ruled these sites out. The University has named 11 potential sites for the UEL, according to an April 7 article in The Herald.

Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to the president, said many of the proposed locations have not been the right “fit” for the UEL, a converted carriage house that has been home to the Center for Environmental Studies.

One proposal would place the UEL across the street from its current location, between Sharpe House and the recently relocated Peter Green House, but Spies said this relocation would “significantly compromise” all three buildings by squeezing them into a small space.

Another location, a small parking lot north of Brown/RISD Hillel, wasn’t large enough to house the building, he said.

The University is currently exploring relocating the building to 99 Brown Street, along with several other options, Spies said.

Spies said that though preserving the buildings is important, the Mind Brain Behavior building will give the University essential lab space for departments that have long had classrooms and labs scattered across campus. The departments of Psychology and Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences are slated to merge into one department in July 2010. That new department, along with the Brain Sciences Program, will be housed in the new building.

The Angell Street location works well for the new building because it is close to the Sidney Frank Hall for the Life Sciences, Spies added.

Emmenecker said the Preservation Society, which was founded in 1956 in an effort to stop the destruction of historic College Hill residences, would like to see the buildings relocated in the immediate neighborhood.

“What we’re thinking is that Brown owes something to the community, and by making a good faith effort to relocate the houses, it would in some way mitigate what they’re doing by removing them from their original site,” she said. “In an ideal situation, we’d like to see them remain in place.”

Because of the buildings’ sizes, moving them any significant distance could present unreasonably high costs – and if the University relocates them at all, it’s more likely to do so nearby, Spies said.