BRISTOL, RI – Montclair resident Chanel Flores recently made news in Rhode Island when she was awarded by the Rhode Island chapter of the American Planning Association (APA).
Flores, a Roger Williams University Class of 2014 graduate from Montclair, and 29 fellow students were recognized for their success in creating a comprehensive redevelopment plan for an abandoned manufacturing property, the former site of the Conant Thread Company and Coats & Clark Mill Complex located on the border of Pawtucket and Central Falls in Rhode Island. Through the Community Partnerships Center, business, architecture and historic preservation students worked together with Commerce RI, the Pawtucket Foundation and the two cities to produce a plan aimed at preserving and revitalizing the mill site, an area that has been vacant since 1964.
The student/faculty team was awarded the Student Project Award on Dec. 11 at the APA Rhode Island annual awards ceremony, which recognizes local projects, plans and individual leaders in the planning profession. The award is granted to an individual student or team of students for academic or applied research, studio projects, community service or other works related to community development or planning in Rhode Island. The project was selected as the winning entry by an awards committee that judged nominations based on innovation, collaboration and inclusiveness, among other factors.
Jeff Davis, leader of the APA Rhode Island awards committee, says the panel of judges was impressed with the level of collaboration and quality of work of the students' mill site redevelopment plan. "The work of the RWU team was both holistic and actionable and would be impressive coming from seasoned professionals, let alone a team of students. We commend the Roger Williams students for their exceptional degree of collaboration on this project."
The property at the mill complex includes two million square feet across more than a dozen buildings that were once used for residential, manufacturing, wholesale distribution and storage purposes. Recognizing its potential for economic revitalization and community development, Commerce RI partnered with the RWU faculty and students to evaluate the space and assess a wide scope of redevelopment factors, from historical and socioeconomic context to conservation priorities and economic development incentives.
APA officials describe the site as “slowly deteriorating since its heyday.” Straddling the border between Pawtucket and Central Falls, the Conant/Coats and Clark Mill site spans approximately 50 acres across the two cities.
Students were asked to create a plan that restores existing buildings and stabilizes the building structures by improving their conditions with minimum alteration on the exterior. Some of this could be accomplished by replacing broken windows, repairing roofs, removing vegetation growing on the buildings, addressing structural issues, and repairing broken parts.
The plan also recommends ways to bring both the mill complex and the whole surrounding area back to life through revitalization, including passing new ordinances to encourage small scale business to develop in the area, and establishing spaces for education, recreation and recycling to keep the neighborhood lively.
APA officials stated, “The students and faculty who worked on this plan are commended for the exceptional degree of collaboration that took place across three separate disciplines—historic preservation, architecture, and business.” They further mention, “The plan is also grounded in market realities, emphasizing the importance of understanding community demographics and the links between viable economic uses, sustainability, and design.”
The student faculty team produced a comprehensive redevelopment plan with historic preservation recommendations, potential reuse ideas and urban design plans as well as tactics for incentivizing business development. The plan proposes using the mill properties for educational, recreational, residential, artistic and commercial facilities, all while maintaining the historic fabric of the buildings and incorporating lower development costs through the use of tax credit incentives.
About RWU: Roger Williams University, located in Bristol, R.I., is a leading independent, coeducational university with programs in the liberal arts and the professions, where students become community- and globally-minded citizens through project-based, experiential learning. Offering 43 majors and a plethora of co-curricular activities as well as study abroad options, RWU is dedicated to the success of students, commitment to a set of core values, the pursuit of affordable excellence and to providing a relevant, world-class education above all else. In the last decade, the University has achieved unprecedented successes including recognition as one of the best colleges in the nation by Forbes, a College of Distinction by Student Horizons, Inc. and as both a best college in the Northeast and one of the nation's greenest universities by The Princeton Review.