2015-11-19 / Around Town

Trinity Pursues Mill Street Remake

By Barry Bridges

Trinity Episcopal Church’s proposal to demolish one of its buildings to make way for a new structure at the same site received partial support from Newport’s Historic District Commission on Tuesday, Nov. 17.

Commissioners approved the demolition of the Carr-Rice building at 23 Mill Street, but delayed a decision on the related new construction until further design details could be worked out through its design review subcommittee.

Carr-Rice, along with the church itself and Honyman Hall, is one of three buildings comprising the Trinity campus. Although one might argue that it has a historic appearance, Carr-Rice was actually built in 1978. According to Trinity’s Rev. Canon Anne Marie Richards, it is “no longer safe” and has been officially closed since January of 2014. In addition to a state of general disrepair, mold and lead problems contributed to the congregation’s decision to vacate the premises almost two years ago.

“Prior to that in the fall of 2013, we explored with architects what it would mean to renovate the building,” Richards told Newport This Week. “It became increasingly apparent that even if we fixed everything that was wrong, we would still have a space that was fundamentally flawed in size and configuration.” She described the layout of Carr-Rice as outdated and inflexible, and said that energy inefficiency and escalating costs of normal maintenance were adding to the problems.

“Repairs would cost as much as something new, and even if we restored it, we would still not have adequate capacity for our programming. Simply put, we need more room to do our work,” she said.

But Trinity determined that the foundation of Carr-Rice could provide the groundwork for the future, and began to look at the possibility of replacing the abandoned building with a new one with the same footprint. “We realized that the foundation is solid, with the problems being above,” said Richards. Consultations with architects confirmed that Carr-Rice’s brick foundation could be retained and used as the base for something more contemporary and more in line with the needs of the church.

Preliminary plans filed with the HDC describe a facility “designed to fit seamlessly within the historic Mill Street fabric” while allowing for more room on three floors for the church’s activities and gatherings. Drawings indicate that the basement level would contain a conference room, dividable space, and restrooms. The first floor has an “open gathering” area, as well as a kitchen and additional restrooms. Among the features on the second floor are a choir loft, small chapel, and nursery.

Architects envision an outdoor plaza connecting the Mill Street building to Queen Anne Square.

The church is also hoping to make room for a community policing presence in the new building. “We’ve had very preliminary conversations on the idea, and there is certainly not a commitment, but we are aware that the current community policing office is in a closet sized area at Brick Market,” said Richards. She added that such an arrangement could also be a good fit with the youth and family programming already in place at Trinity.

“We want to do what makes sense for the community,” said Richards. “We are committed to not replicating what others are doing, but are asking ourselves how we can be a resource.”

While the details of the project remain subject to further review and approval by the HDC, Newport’s Historic Preservation Planner Helen Johnson completed a staff report recommending that Trinity receive a go-ahead. “The demolition of the existing structure does not adversely affect the Trinity Church campus or the surrounding historic neighborhood,” she wrote. “The [proposal] uses simple lines, modest details, and appropriate massing and materials which pay homage to the historic nature of the surrounding neighborhood while still allowing for the campus to evolve architecturally with a modern and energy-efficient structure.”

Attorney Turner Scott represented Trinity at the brief HDC hearing and secured the OK to proceed with the demolition. He advised that zoning variances will not be required.

Design review is scheduled for Nov. 25. Assuming that a green light is eventually forthcoming, Richards said that a start date will depend on the success of the church’s fundraising campaign. Trinity’s goal is to raise between $2.8 and $3.2 million to cover the work at Carr-Rice and for needed improvements at Honyman Hall. “Work would commence at some point in the next two years,” she predicted.

Richards said the effort is more than a construction project and should speak to how the church engages the public. “It should be reflective of our mission and vision as an organization,” she explained. “We can create a beautiful building, but if we don’t have a reason for it or if we don’t know how it will advance our mission and serve our community, it will just sit there.”

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