The Providence Preservation Society announced its 2023 Most Endangered Properties List at its annual meeting Jan. 31. This year’s list included all properties owned by the Providence Public School District and all of the city’s infrastructure along with several other properties.
Over 100 attendees were present at the meeting, which also included the announcement of Executive Director Brent Runyon’s departure after nine years with the organization and planning for the year ahead.
“The work we’ve done together (is) among the greatest highlights of my career,” Runyon said at the meeting.
PPS will begin the process of finding a new executive director who is “a thoughtful and growth-minded leader” in the coming weeks, according to the announcement.
As a “dedicated preservation nonprofit,” PPS advocates for policies and ideas that benefit the city and educate residents about “its buildings, its communities and various resources and tools that are available to help us take care of our built environment,” said PPS Director of Education Kelsey Mullen at the meeting.
Endangered properties: Infrastructure, Superman, PPSD
The Most Endangered Properties List aims to “highlight and draw attention to properties and buildings that need reinvestment, a second look or public attention in some way,” Mullen explained.
“In the last year, we haven’t had any significant losses on our 2022 MEP list, but we haven’t had any clear wins either,” PPS Advocacy Manager Adriana Hazelton said.
Hazelton offered updates on the state of each property from the 2022 ranking, including the Urban League of Rhode Island Building, Prince Hall Grand Lodge and Temple Beth-El, to meeting attendees. Along with the buildings on the 2023 list, PPS hopes to see the properties “saved” in the coming year.
The 2023 list is topped by the Industrial National Bank building — also known as the “Superman Building” — and Asa Messer Elementary School on the city’s West End.
PPS hopes to see the restoration and renovation of elementary schools across the city, Hazelton said. “Asa Messer Elementary School is not quite abandoned, but it certainly feels that way,” she explained. “It no longer functions as a public school due to deterioration-related safety hazards and is currently lightly used as city storage.”
Asa Messer is one of many unused and deteriorating public school buildings across the city, leading to PPS’s inclusion of the entire public school system on the list, Hazelton said. “The physical condition of the schools is not simply a matter of age, but rather a symptom of decades of disinvestment in education” and a lack of maintenance, she explained. “Students and faculty deserve serious sustained investments in their educational needs.”
In the 2019 Johns Hopkins report that was released months before the state takeover of PPSD, investigators noted that “many school buildings are deteriorating across the city, and some are even dangerous to students’ and teachers’ wellbeing.”
Mayor Brett Smiley quipped that he only felt “a modicum of pressure” with the naming of the entire public school system and the city’s infrastructure on the MEP list. Smiley later assured meeting attendees that city government is committed to preservation in Providence.
“I’m a card-carrying member of the Providence Preservation Society and proud to be so,” Smiley said at the meeting.
Two years ago, PPS put the entire city of Providence on the Most Endangered List to call attention to the threats of climate change, The Herald previously reported. This year, in a renewed push, PPS listed the entirety of the city’s infrastructure. “Holistic adaptation, long-term infrastructure improvements and investments are necessary to mitigate devastating and predictable outcomes” of climate change, Hazelton said.
PPS also listed the Humboldt Fire Station, the Providence Gas Company Purifier House, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation Headquarters and Garage and the Standard Wholesale Liquors Company as endangered properties.
PPS’s agenda, goals for 2023
At the meeting, Board of Trustees President Warren Jagger discussed PPS’s activity in 2022 and the group’s hopes for 2023. In addition to major advocacy projects across the city — including advising on the “Superman Building” renovation — PPS has communicated with the University as it expands in Providence, Jagger said.
The nonprofit and the University have had past disagreements concerning the design of the Brook Street dorms and the boundaries of historic district overlay zoning, The Herald previously reported.
According to Jagger, PPS is assembling a study committee “to examine institutional zoning” and consider the best ways to protect neighborhoods adjacent to campuses.
“As we have seen over the years, institutional growth is generally positive for the city as a whole,” Jagger said, “but it must be balanced by the preservation of quality of life around the institutions.”
Liliana Greyf is a senior staff writer covering College Hill, Fox Point and the Jewelry District, and Brown's relationship with Providence. She is a freshman studying Literary Arts and a proponent of most pickled vegetables.