New High School | McCoy Stadium Site | Pawtucket

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The bond question for $330M for the construction of a new single unified Pawtucket High School was approved by 79.3% of city voters winning 9,205 to 2,559. The site of McCoy Stadium had been previously selected by city government for this should it be approved. The city had originally intended to renovate both Shea (opened 1939) and Tolman (opened 1926) High Schools. It proposed closing each high school during the renovation process using the other high school for both enrollments on a week on / week off hybrid model that included online home schooling. They had initially proposed to currently be in the two year process of renovating Shea which was the first school to be addressed. The RI Dept of Education however rejected the hybrid partial home school model forcing the city to rethink things. The city has for the last decade been in the process of renovating and constructing new schools. It is working on its fourth elementary school as Potter, Greene, Winters, and Baldwin were being addressed. Potter and Greene saw complete overhauls of their existing buildings while a new Winters just opened in September and ground was just broken for a new Baldwin. All four of these schools were closed during these projects with the city using its flex space at the former St Leo's Catholic School. This facility was sufficient to temporarily house the elementary schools but is too small for the much larger enrollment high schools. The city therefore had no options as it had no viable alternative space that would be needed during a closure as keeping a school open during renovation was not feasible. With a new unified high school being the only path forward, the city centered on the unused McCoy Stadium site as there is little available land in the city of 75,000 residents as its small 8.9 sq mile area is nearly entirely 100% built out.
 
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The construction of a new single unified high school in Pawtucket will result in the two former high school sites being available for future development. The city already has two former public schools that have been converted into housing - Doyle Manor (originally opened in 1895 as Pawtucket High and later the first Jenks Jr High School) and the Church Hill School (built 1890 and converted in 2020). In addition to these, the former St Edward's/Woodlawn Regional Catholic School is currently being converted into housing. One would think that its current two high school buildings might see similar development.

The four story + basement level Colonial Revival style Tolman High occupies a very desirable location as it is right by Route 95 in the downtown diagonally across the Blackstone River from City Hall. It was built to be a showplace as the single city high school back in 1926. The southern wing along Exchange Street contains a large 1,300 fixed seat auditorium with a horseshoe shaped second level balcony and lobby with its own entrance. The north wing contains the gym and a basement pool. The structure was even grander in its early decades as it once had an columned portico extending out from its main central entrance.
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Shea High School is on East Avenue at the beginning of the desirable residential Oak Hill neighborhood which abuts the East Side of Providence. The three story Art Deco style structure opened in 1939.
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jklo

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583 parking spaces seems like a lot for an urban high school campus.
The one time I was there, The Bucket seemed extremely auto centric. I think you would expect Teachers and Staff to drive to work. Now I'm sure they wouldn't need 583 spaces for that... but they might be land banking for further expansion too if it comes to that. May as well let students drive to class in the meantime.
 
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The one time I was there, The Bucket seemed extremely auto centric. I think you would expect Teachers and Staff to drive to work. Now I'm sure they wouldn't need 583 spaces for that... but they might be land banking for further expansion too if it comes to that. May as well let students drive to class in the meantime.

The combined unified high school will have a large enrollment and staff for grades 9-12. There will probably be approximately 2,200 people attending or working at the new school each day.

Students
Tolman 1,042
Shea 9,52
Total 1,994

Teachers
Tolman 64
Shea 54
Total 118

+ Additional General Staff - Administration, Cafeteria, and Maintenance
 
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Equilibria

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The construction of a new single unified high school in Pawtucket will result in the two former high school sites being available for future development. The city already has two former public schools that have been converted into housing - Doyle Manor (originally opened in 1895 as Pawtucket High and later the first Jenks Jr High School) and the Church Hill School (built 1890 and converted in 2020). In addition to these, the former St Edward's/Woodlawn Regional Catholic School is currently being converted into housing. One would think that its current two high school buildings might see similar development.

The four story + basement level Colonial Revival style Tolman High occupies a very desirable location as it is right by Route 95 in the downtown diagonally across the Blackstone River from City Hall. It was built as the single city high school back in 1926. The southern wing along Exchange Street contains a large 1,300 fixed seat auditorium with a horseshoe shaped second level balcony and lobby with its own entrance. The north wing contains the gym and as basement pool. The structure was even grander in its early decades as it once had an columned portico extending out from its main central entrance.
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Shea High School is on East Avenue at the beginning of the desirable residential Oak Hill neighborhood which abuts the East Side of Providence. The three story Art Deco style structure opened in 1939.
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Thanks for doing such a great job of summarizing this! I hope both buildings can get adaptive reuse, but Tolman in particular.

Seems like it would only take a slight realignment of the football field to be able to reuse the left field grandstand a la Nickerson Field...
 
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Thanks for doing such a great job of summarizing this! I hope both buildings can get adaptive reuse, but Tolman in particular.
I agree. Tolman has a more attractive location for developers being perched right on the river across from city hall and just a short block away from Route 95. In my view it is the grander of the two schools. It would however be a great loss if the auditorium/theater wing was not retained as it is the largest such venue left in the city (sadly the once spectacular 2,500 seat Leroy Theater was demolished in 1997 to make way for a Walgreen's). Tolman High has the prominence typically associated with an important government building. If the city ever wanted a larger city hall to house all its departments, it would certainly fit the bill.

Tolman also has the advantage of being situated right next (to the right in school photos) to the crenellated and privately owned and operated Pawtucket Armory Arts Center which hosts events and exhibitions in its 11,000 sf former drill hall.


Tolman High School (then known as Pawtucket High School) back in its early days (likely circa some time in or around 1930) when it had its original columned center portico, windows, and roof onamentation:
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DBM

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Thanks for doing such a great job of summarizing this! I hope both buildings can get adaptive reuse, but Tolman in particular.

Seems like it would only take a slight realignment of the football field to be able to reuse the left field grandstand a la Nickerson Field...
Ditto that (great job summarizing).

Serious, non-sarcastic question: is it reasonable to presume the City of Pawtucket's planning/development staff is very bogged-down in the takeover of the blighted Apex pyramid site, and that whole riverfront soccer development scenario? I hope they have the staffing/capacity to attend to these far more pragmatic/"low-hanging fruit" redevelopment initiatives, and not be too diverted by such annoying sideshows as Apex and the soccer stadium...
 
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Ditto that (great job summarizing).

Serious, non-sarcastic question: is it reasonable to presume the City of Pawtucket's planning/development staff is very bogged-down in the takeover of the blighted Apex pyramid site, and that whole riverfront soccer development scenario? I hope they have the staffing/capacity to attend to these far more pragmatic/"low-hanging fruit" redevelopment initiatives, and not be too diverted by such annoying sideshows as Apex and the soccer stadium...

I no longer have any real working knowledge of the department so I can't really address your question. I had worked for the Pawtucket Planning dept two summers while in college some 40 years ago. One of the people I worked with back then later became the longtime head of the dept but retired just a few years ago. For a very long time, the city had very large separate planning and redevelopment (PRA) departments but they eventually were merged and the staff decreased. Pawtucket had been part of the Model City Program for urban redevelopment back in the 1960's and 1970's and got a lot of federal grants. The city once had a thriving downtown before the advent of highways and suburban shopping malls. That all changed with the times. The first big blow was the construction of Route 95 straight through the downtown area. Pawtucket officials actually lobbied for it to be there thinking it would help downtown but it completely destroyed longtime neighborhoods that were on the fringe of the downtown area. The city then tried to "save" its downtown with massive redevelopment projects. Many old buildings were destroyed with little thought and opposition. Two large department stores (Peerless & Apex were built) were constructed as anchors with parking which allowed the retail sector to hang on for another two decades before finally succumbing to the times. In hindsight, it probably would have been better to face reality sooner rather than later and have left many historic structures intact so that they could have eventually been rediscovered and repurposed. Downtown Pawtucket is today sadly a shell of what it once was. It is today a hodgepodge of building styles without a cohesive feel. Also not helping, many streets are one way with partial remnants of the infamous CIRCULATOR (a one way ring around the downtown) still there.

My native hometown was once a thriving and wealthy city. It's settlement goes back to 1671 and it has a proud industrial past with many proclaiming it as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution due to the opening of Slater Mill in 1793. It for much of its history even had a large working riverfront as ships traveled up Narragansett Bay and the Seekonk River right up to its downtown until the early decades of the 20th century. The city is just 8.9 square miles but has a population of 75,604 per the 2020 census. Its population has surprisingly held pretty steady for the last 90 years having continually always been between a low of 71,148 and high of 81, 436. It is today your prototypical former thriving New England mill town facing challenges. The city however does still have some advantages. It is a bit unique for an old mill town as it is right next to a far larger city (Providence) rather than it alone being a center for a region. It has New England's most travelled road (Route 95) and the BOS-WASH Amtrak railroad corridor passing through it. A new MBTA commuter rail station is within just a few months of opening after no service for nearly 50 years. Its mill conversions and lower rent have attracted an active arts scene. It still has some interesting architecture with some of its former magnificent mansions, mills, and commercial buildings still surviving. Pawtucket has a large park system that includes the 200 acre Slater Park and 20 acre Vet's Park along with several other public areas along the riverfront which it continues to add to and connect (presently in the process of buying 10 acres just south of the Tidewater Landing project). The city however has recently encountered several setbacks including the closing of its century old 300 bed Memorial Hospital and loss of the Pawtucket Red Sox. There are rumors that its big name Hasbro Toy Company would like to move so that its can consolidate all its corporate offices on one campus (now has separate offices in Pawtucket, E Providence, and Providence). Unlike the other large RI cities such as Providence, Cranston, and Warwick, there is no large state facility with public employment in its borders. It has typically sadly been very neglected by state leaders. This was very evident with the state siting a commuter rail station in a remote low populated place such as Wickford a decade before Pawtucket, easily allowing Memorial Hospital to abruptly close within 60 days of notice, and dragging its feet on a new PawSox Stadium. This prior neglect (and associated gult) likely partly explains why the state may be supporting the Tidewater Landing Soccer project even though many argue its benefits do not outweigh its risks.
 
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