PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Community Action Partnership of Providence (CAPP) has decided to leave the Elmwood Community Center (ECC) by the end of the month, citing “health and safety concerns” within the building.
According to the Executive Director of CAPP, Rilwan Feyisitan Jr., the organization doesn’t currently have an alternative space, meaning the city’s largest food pantry will remain closed until they find one. Feyisitan said the pantry serves approximately 750 families each month.
Feyisitan explained the Elmwood Community Center, which is owned by the city, has “near constant” roof leaks, and that recent testing found asbestos present in at least one area of the building.
“For several weeks this past winter, our employees worked in rooms with no heat,” he said. “We attempted to address this situation with space heaters, but the building’s outdated electrical system could not handle the extra load.”
Feyisitan said his nonprofit recently alerted the city it would be leaving the community center on Niagara Street, after learning during a meeting in May there was asbestos found inside. July 31 is the last day CAPP will be operating out of the center.
“It’s kind of the deal-breaker for us,” Feyisitan said. “We need to make sure the community is getting what they want and deserve, and that they are doing it in a place that’s safe.”
Feyisitan said CAPP has been working with city officials to mitigate repairs, but he said the necessary repairs are not being made fast enough to protect the health of their employees and community members.
He said the city estimated repairs to the building would cost approximately $4.6 million when only $1.9 million is available.
Emily Crowell, the communications director for Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, sent Eyewitness News this statement Thursday night:
“It is unfortunate that CAPP has decided to move out of the facility. The administration has been working with the organization for the last 10 months on this property. The administration hired Studio Jaed to evaluate the entire property and it was determined that the cost of all repairs would be $4.6M. The administration has since worked with the Providence City Council to identify funding in recent months to allocate $300K to do immediate work and in February we identified another $1.6M in additional funding through our $10M bond which closed just two weeks ago.”
Crowell said repairs under contract for the summer include a boiler replacement, as well as repairs to the roof and chairlift.
She also told Eyewitness News, “It’s worth noting that these investments are well underway and that the administration had attempted to reach out to the organization in recent weeks with no response.”
When asked about this, Feyisitan said CAPP has been “transparent” with the city throughout the entire process. He said despite the ongoing repairs the city is paying for, he didn’t believe it was safe to have residents continue utilizing the facility moving forward.
“As CAPP serves many South Providence youth, seniors, pregnant parents and individuals with compromised immune systems and breathing issues, we simply can’t jeopardize their health, or the health of our employees by continuing to operate in the potentially dangerous conditions present at the ECC,” he added.
Some of CAPP’s programs, including RI Works, Dress to Progress, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Little Free Library, will be moved to the organization’s headquarters at 518 Hartford Avenue.
But, because of space constraints and “similarly poor building conditions” at headquarters, the programs won’t be able to serve the same amount of residents as it did in ECC.
A public forum will be held July 18 at the Renaissance Church on Broad Street to discuss the closure of ECC and ways for CAPP to resume services.
Paula Donovan, of the Elmwood Neighborhood Association, said they will assist CAPP in any way they can to ensure residents continue to receive the organization’s services.
“It is sad that these unacceptable building conditions are forcing one of our most important social service providers, Community Action Partners of Providence, to move out of the community center and cut programs that our neighborhood’s residents rely on,” Donovan said in a statement. “It is clear that the Band-Aid approach to repairing the Elmwood Community Center is not working.”