National Grid: No plans for Warren's ‘gateway’ building

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It’s one of the first things drivers from Barrington see as they head into Warren, and one of the last as they leave. But residents who want National Grid to refurbish the small brick building adjacent to the American Tourister property may be in for a wait.

The utility, which has owned the small brick structure for years, doesn’t plan on disposing of or addressing the property one way or another, despite talk in recent years of leasing it to the town, turning it into a welcome center or renovating it.

“We have no plans for it right now, one way or the other, either selling it for development or for our own use,” National Grid spokesman David Graves said. “That goes for the land and the building as well. It’s going to be maintained in its current state going forward.”

For some Warren residents, that’s not enough.

At such a key spot in town, the building has long been the subject of renovation talk. Going back as far as 1986, the late architect Lombard Pozzi drew out a site plan for the property, envisioning it being re-used as a welcome center.

Several years ago, Warren Town Council members thought they had a plan for the building, after town officials spoke with National Grid about leasing it for $1 per year and cleaning the place up.

“Nothing ever came of it,” former council member Davison Bolster, one of the plan’s biggest advocates at the time, said.

Mr. Graves said that though there has been much talk about the late 19th century utility building, environmental concerns and long-term National Grid planning are the major sticking points with the property.

The land on which the building sits was home to a manufactured gas plant in the late 1800s, and as such the ground is contaminated by the remnants of that production — inorganic tar solids, ash and the like. The remedy for such plants is often to cap them with impermeable barriers, and then cover them with asphalt. That’s what the state DEM wants National Grid to do, he said. The area in question is not large; about 90 percent of the lot is already paved, and the needed work would only involve smaller landscaped areas that would need to be capped and then paved.

There is no deadline for that work to be done, he said, adding that the best estimate he has is that it will be done “in the future.”

Mr. Bolster and others said they would like to see the town renew its efforts to clean up the property, despite National Grid’s reluctance. It’s the town’s gateway, he said:

The town could easily secure cleanup funds. You can’t just let it sit there.”

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.