Chafee isn't going to get Armory renovated, occupied
The Cranston Street Armory, the castle-like structure in Providence built in 1907, has fallen into disrepair. Gov. Lincoln Chafee pledged during his 2010 campaign to not only complete renovations on the facility, but also to move three state agencies into the building to save on high-rent leases.
In 2011, we last rated this promise "In the Works" because there was an effort underway to appropriate money for the renovations.
But according to a May 26, 2014, story in The Providence Journal, the state canceled a proposed repair contract for the armory so it could determine the most critical work needed to stabilize the historic building, even as it tried to decide how to use it.
Allison Rogers, policy director for the state Department of Administration, said repairs could cost tens of millions of dollars.
The state was seeking proposals to study the armory building and come with a plan for its use. The contract was to have been awarded last June, with a report due by December 2014.
But in an update, Rogers told us, "No award has been made at this time for the Redevelopment Feasibility Assessment Study for the Cranston Street Armory. There is a tentative recommendation to Peregrine Group, but, again, at this time no award has been made.
"Given the award has not yet been made," she said, "the due date for the study is not yet finalized."
We also asked about Chafee's promise to move three state agencies into the armory. That hasn't happened either. In fact, the state fire marshal's office, which had been there, has been moved out. The building is being used for storage and meeting space.
With Chafee's term due to expire at the beginning of January, we're reclassifying this promise from "In the Works" to "Promise Broken."
PolitiFact.com, "Armory funds appropriated as multi-year project," August 11th, 2011
ProvidenceJournal.com, "Providence and R.I. officials consider future of Cranston Street Armory," May 26, 2014 and "Lawmaker wants to restore $3 million in state budget for repairs to Cranston Street Armory," May 30, 2014
Emails, Allison Rogers, director of policy, Rhode Island Department of Administration, Nov. 5 and 7, 2014
Armory funds appropriated as multi-year project
As a candidate, Governor Chafee proposed a three-part plan to combat what he called "irresponsible waste and needless inefficiency” in state building use. As the first part of that plan, he said he would "complete the renovation of the historic state-owned 165,000-square-foot Cranston Street Armory, followed by the relocation there of three of the state agencies currently holding high-rent leases with private landlords.”
Easier said than done.
During the campaign, Chafee took a tour of the armory, which is in Providence, "and he thought it was one of Rhode Island"s great assets,” spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger said. After winning the election, he thought about holding his inauguration party there, she said. But the staff took another tour and were told about the building"s structural deficiencies. In short, the armory was in no condition to party.
In 1999, the armory was listed as one of the 10 most endangered historic buildings in the United States. Department of Administration Executive Director Ronald N. Renaud described its condition in an email last week: "Portions of the building exterior remain in dangerous condition. A large masonry balcony has fallen off the building to the sidewalk below, and additional masonry pieces continue to fall with the possibility that a passing pedestrian will be injured.”
For years, the armory was used mostly for storage, but in 2005, part of it was used as a sound stage for a movie, Renaud said. Fire and safety code work has been done to bring the basement and first floor into compliance, and the state fire marshal has had offices in the building for three or four years, he said. But the upper floors cannot be used in their current condition, he said.
As far as relocating any new state agencies to the armory, Renaud said, "there have been discussions with several government operations interested in a renovated armory, but based on the logistics and design of the facility, there are no viable tenants.”
So shouldn"t Chafee have been aware of the armory"s defects, given that it has been in rough shape for such a long time?
"When you take a tour of the building, it"s impressive, and you can"t fully understand the structural issues underneath,” Hunsinger said. "Upon closer inspection and conversation with Department of Administration officials and others, we realized the true extent of the structural deficiencies.”
Regardless, the Linc-O-Meter is focused on whether Chafee has completed the renovation of the armory. The obvious answer is: No.
But Chafee did request $500,000 for the armory in his capital budget for fiscal 2012 and he sought another $500,000 for fiscal 2013. The money would pay for repairs and "architectural and engineering services to identify how to stabilize the building envelope and seal the envelope,” Hunsinger said.
The General Assembly provided $200,000 of the $500,000 that Chafee requested for 2012, but it provided $800,000 in the capital budget for 2013. So the governor"s request would be financed in full over two years. Also, Chafee put a total of $5.5 million for armory repairs in the state"s capital budget for fiscal years 2013-16.
Hunsinger said completing the renovations of the armory is a long-term project, which would be impossible to accomplish in the seven months of Chafee"s administration. But money has been budgeted to analyze the building"s problems and to make repairs, she said.
"Some promises take time and they take money,” Hunsinger said. "In this economy, where there are lots of competing issues for money, this isn't in the top budget priorities, nor should it be. But it's definitely still on our radar.”
It will be worth watching to see whether Chafee delivers on this promise before he leaves office. But at this point, we rate it as "In the works.”
ChafeeForGovernor.com, "Chafee Identifies Significant Savings Opportunity in State Building Usage," July 26, 2010
Budget.RI.gov, "FY 2012 Capital Budget; FY 2012 – FY 2016 Capital Improvement Plan," undated
RILIN.state.ri.us, "Governor's FY2012 Capital Budget - Budget Analysis," Senate Fiscal Office report, April 26, 2011
RILIN.state.ri.us, "2011-H 5894 Substitute A As Recommended by the House Finance Committee," House Fiscal Advisory Staff, undated
Email, Ronald N. Renaud, executive direction, Department of Administration, Aug. 4, 2011
Interviews, Christine Hunsinger, Chafee spokeswoman, Aug 4-5, 2011