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State police to escort RI’s oldest documents to new home

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – More than three centuries of Rhode Island’s history is on the move.

After 30 years being housed in a building located in a flood zone, the state archives are being relocated to a new – though again temporary – home a couple of blocks away. And some of the most historic documents will be guarded by state police for the journey.

R.I. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea has made moving the materials from their current home at 337 Westminster Street in Providence a priority, though her goal of building a permanent location never made it into the governor’s budget proposals.

“You aim high,” Gorbea said in an interview surrounded by boxes on Westminster Street. “That wasn’t in the cards right now. That’s OK. We’re significantly upgrading the protection of the treasures and their access.”

The state signed a 10-year lease with former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino, who owns the new location at 33 Broad Street (the Westminster location was also owned by Paolino). The annual rent is about $280,000 a year, and Gorbea said the costs reflects some major renovations the new location had to undergo. Gorbea said unlike the Westminster Street location, the new space “meets national archival standards and that is a big improvement.” 

“The new location is archival standard worthy and it has a climate-controlled vault that we can keep our most amazingly historic treasures in,” Gorbea said. “It has wonderfully modern conference space and research space.”

Some of the most valuable documents include the state’s copy of the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the Gaspee Commission Documents. Gorbea said that material will receive a state police escort when transported.

“Any kind of move of historic documents of course is stressful,” she said. “But we have a really good team here that’s on top of it.”

Part of that team includes Massachusetts-based moving company William B. Meyer Inc., which specializes in the transportation of archival records and treasures. Employee Carl Anderson said they use a refrigerated truck to transport the material.

“This is not a normal move,” Anderson said. “We do a lot of public libraries, a lot of academic libraries, archives, rare manuscripts.”

Gorbea said the move alone is costing the state about $96,000.

In 2015, Target 12 revealed taxpayers were spending $248,000 a year in rent to house the state archives in a flood-prone building. At the time, thousands of documents were stored in the basement which was wired with alarms if a sump pump failed and water started to rise. 

The state’s lease for the Broad Street location officially begins Aug. 1, but the pandemic will prevent public access to the space for the time being.

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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