Fire at vacant Providence school building raises concerns about its future

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I (WPRI) — The future of a blighted Providence school that was scheduled to be fully renovated within the next year is now up in the air after a fire broke out inside the building this past weekend.

Firefighters were able to quickly knock down the fire, which heavily damaged a third-floor classroom at the Windmill Street School Sunday night. The building also sustained significant smoke and water damage.

“It had the potential to be a significant size fire,” Deputy Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Jutras said. “Fortunately, we got inside the building … it was one classroom and it was the contents in that classroom that we were able to quickly extinguish.”

The Windmill Street School has been vacant for 10 years and was scheduled to be renovated ahead of the 2022-2023 school year, according to Director of Public Property Demo Roberts.

The city plans to invest $30.5 million dollars into refurbishing the property. The renovations are part of the city’s overall $300-million plan to make infrastructure improvements to Providence Public Schools.

Providence City Councilman Nick Narducci, who attended Windmill Street School when it was open, said the city hopes to, at first, utilize it as a swing space for students displaced by work in their own school buildings.

“When other schools in Providence shut down to be fixed up, kids would come here,” Narducci explained.

When asked whether the fire would delay these renovations, Roberts said he’s not sure yet, adding that they’re still assessing the damage to the building.

In the meantime, Narducci is urging the city to better protect the vacant building from vandals.

“I’m aggravated and disgusted,” Narducci said. “More needs to be done to secure the building. We’ve even gone as far as welding the doors shut.”

Victor Morente, a spokesperson for the R.I. Department of Education, tells 12 News the project is still in its design phase and construction has yet to begin.

Roberts said the city is currently sorting through bids and plans to award them within the next few weeks.

“This would really kick off the design phase,” he explained. “It’s a tough battle, but we’re committed to making sure that it is going to be secure and look a lot better than it does.”

The cause of the fire remains under investigation at this time.

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Providence

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