News, University News

University changes site for performing arts center

New site for construction between Angell and Olive Streets, avoiding demolition of UEL

By and
Senior Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The University no longer plans to demolish the Urban Environmental Laboratory. Concerns voiced in a Providence City Plan Commission meeting Dec. 19 spurred the changes to the proposed design and location.

The University has changed the planned building location for the new performing arts center “to a smaller plot on The Walk between Angell and Olive streets, facing the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts,” according to a University press release.

The new plan comes amid controversy over the original site, which would have required the demolition of four historical buildings, including the Urban Environmental Lab, as The Herald previously reported . “The shift in site will require the relocation of only a single structure (Sharpe House on Angell Street) and no proposed demolitions,” according to the press release.

“Over the last six to eight weeks or so, we took a really hard look at it and came up … with an alternative proposal that we think works well academically and … for the campus and the city,” said Russell Carey ’91 MA’06, executive vice president for planning and policy at the University. The center would fulfill “a long-standing need that’s not met by any current facility,” Carey added, referring to the lack of a concert hall for the Brown University Orchestra.

There was a “whole team of people involved” in the decision, including REX Architecture, construction management firm Shawmut Design and Construction, facilities management and the University administration, said Leah VanWey, associate provost for academic space.

Concerns became apparent following the Dec. 19 Providence City Plan Commission meeting on the University’s original plan, most notably regarding the “size of the building,” “removal of historic buildings” and demolition of the UEL, VanWey said.

To address the concerns, REX Architecture suggested putting “part of the program underground,” VanWey said. “It reduces the above-ground volume by 50 percent.”

“On this revised site, more of (the center) can go underground,” Carey said. This is possible because Brown has owned Olive Street since “it was purchased from the city a number of years ago,” he added.

After the construction of the center, Olive Street will be closed off to public traffic, VanWey said. The street will be declared a “service road and pedestrian area for Brown functions,” she added. But “the building is expected to generate little, if any, additional street traffic or demand for parking,” according to the press release.

Many who had protested the demolition of the UEL consider the new plan to be a victory. “I’m personally happy to hear that Brown has taken all these into consideration and has gone forward” with a new plan, said Austen Sharpe ’18.

“I was … crying almost in joy that the community will survive” in addition to the “legacy of environmentalism in Rhode Island,” said Lauren Maunus ’19. “Everyone was texting each other like, ‘Congratulations!’ or, “We did it!’ … Everyone was so excited and supporting each other.”

But students “have to remain vocal and be present,” Maunus said. “We can’t just be complacent.”

“We have learned a lot from this and we are going to be ready to gather together if it’s ever in jeopardy again,” said Kai Salem ’18.

“It’s so much more than just a building,” Maunus added. “This change is really about having a community survive and history maintained.”

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the University’s original plan would have resulted in the demolition of five historical buildings. In fact, the original plan would have resulted in the demolition of four historical buildings. The Herald regrets the error.