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Engineering building plan calls for demolition of historic houses

Preservation society opposes destruction of four houses with ‘architectural value’

In order to make space for the University’s new engineering building — construction of which is set to begin in December 2015­ — four houses included in the city’s historic district have been slated for demolition.

The buildings, located at 37 and 29 Manning Street and 341 and 333 Brook Street, were constructed in the early 1900s and were later acquired by the University and converted into business and academic spaces, said Mike McCormick, assistant vice president of planning, design and construction. McCormick and a group of University administrators collaborated with the Public Archaeology Lab to learn about these buildings’ histories in preparation for the planning and design of the new engineering building.

But the Providence Preservation Society “opposes the demolition of the four houses” due to their “historical” and “architectural value,” said Brent Runyon, executive director of PPS. The buildings also contribute to “the development of College Hill as a neighborhood,” he added.

Despite initial planning efforts to build around the houses, the construction of the new engineering building will require their demolition in order to be built in an ideal location on College Hill, McCormick said.

The new engineering building’s setting will benefit the School of Engineering by promoting increased interaction among students and faculty while still retaining a connection to the current engineering program in Barus and Holley, Dean of Engineering Lawrence Larson said. “Not only is it close to Barus and Holley, but it’s close to all the other areas of campus that we have really close intellectual and scholarly ties to.”

“I think that all of us are sad to see the buildings go, but I think that given the options we have for increasing the capacity in the engineering site, there’s nothing we can do,” he added.

University administrators considered saving the houses by moving them to street corners, but they are too big to relocate without causing collateral damage to the streets, McCormick said.

Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations, said the University has conducted significant outreach to ensure that planning, design and construction of the site can move forward while enabling community members to give their feedback on the construction process. The construction has already been approved by the city’s Planning Commission, she added.

Maintaining good relationships with community members is important to the University, said Al Dahlberg, director of state and community relations. “We have open minds to communication with PPS and neighborhood assocations. We build good relationships because of that.”

Though the PPS opposes the demolition of the historic houses, Runyon added that the group “applauds Brown’s effort to do community building.”

While the buildings do qualify as “historic,” this designation does not hold much significance, McCormick said. In the 1970s, any building that was 50 years or older was nominated as a historic structure “without much judgement of the true value of them,” he said.

Since the 1970s, the meaning of what makes buildings “historic” has been changing. Now, “there needs to be other historic significance to them other than they are just old in the neighborhood and kind of nice,” McCormick said.

The process of finding a suitable location for the new engineering building involved extensive planning, including meetings with community and neighborhood groups, such as the PPS, the Neighborhood Association and Fox Point leadership, McCormick said. The University aims to plan construction in “the most sensitive and effective way,” even if some sacrifices have to be made along the way, he said.

Though the PPS is well aware that not all buildings can be saved, the group’s members “hope that what replaces the building or buildings will contribute to the community in a way that is greater than the loss of the other buildings would be” and that new structures will be “compatible with the neighborhood,” Runyon said.


A previous version of this article misspelled the name of the dean of engineering. He is Lawrence Larson, not Lawson. The Herald regrets the error.



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