2017-02-16 / Around Town

Washington Square Set for New Lighting

By Barry Bridges

Washington Square’s Eisenhower Park will soon be seen in a whole new light, as the current gas lamps are set to be replaced with historically appropriate LED lighting.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on these lights,” said Lillian Dick, chair of the Washington Square Advisory Commission, at the group’s monthly meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 7. “We have been working on the rest of Washington Square, and now the last thing remaining is the park.”

“It’s really going to be dramatically different,” commented city tree warden Scott Wheeler, also a member of the commission. While the current gas lamps provide an ambiance to the square, the goal for the new lighting is more practical. “We have laid out the plans so as to provide lighting for all the walkways, as opposed to simply lining them up like soldiers,” he said. “It’s going to be like night and day.”

The cost of the project will be largely covered through a Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Historic Grant.

The city will spearhead the installation, because no bids were received for the project. “The plan is to make sure we get all the materials ready and then we’ll put a lot of resources into it,” said Wheeler. “Although we had hoped to leave the gas lights on during the transition, that is not going to work and there may be a period of time when the area is dark. But we can bring in floodlights to help.”

The existing gas lamp poles will be stockpiled to use elsewhere in the city when needed.

“Once we get the lights up, we can begin to focus on the turf, like we recently did at Equality Park,” Wheeler continued. He also said that restoration work is needed for the fencing along the park’s perimeter. “Long term, I would like to find funds to contract out the restoration work, but in the meantime the city will need to do a bit of maintenance work.” Dick said the committee could look into available grants.

There are also discussions on infilling the circular sidewalks at the center of the park to make a more plaza-like space for multipurpose events, as well as repairing the fountain and providing better access to it.

“We really want to make this a well-lit, well-designed welcoming space,” said Dick.

Based on the commission’s research and recommendations, the Newport City Council approved a resolution directing the change from gaslights to modern LED lighting in Eisenhower Park in 2014. At the time, then-interim City Manager Joseph Nicholson wrote in a staff report that “the lack of sufficient light is cited as a significant public safety concern [and is] detrimental to the economic vitality of the Washington Square businesses that surround the park.”

That resolution was in the context of a broader discussion on the city’s historic lighting.

“I think we need an inventory of where [our historic lighting is] and what’s involved, and I think there are stakeholders who are concerned that we might just nibble away at these, one at a time. The best thing to do is to stop and [develop] a policy as to how we’re going to deal with them,” said then- Councilor Justin McLaughlin in 2014.

The council passed a resolution, not applicable to the Eisenhower Park lights, that established a moratorium “on the removal, replacement, or relocation of any historic lighting in the city until such time that the council has adopted a policy.”

At this month’s meeting, commission member Ross Cann gave an update on efforts undertaken pursuant to that measure. “The Historic Lighting Task Force went through a two-year process and did an analysis of all existing lights,” he said. “We wrote a very good policy, sort of universally establishing why it’s important to maintain assets like historic lighting."

Dick told Newport This Week that the policy has been well-received by the city, and the moratorium is set to be lifted.

The commission also heard on other matters relevant to Eisenhower Park: Committee member Liz Drayton gave an update on the restoration of the Opera House Theater and Performing Arts Center. “Our spaces are being designed for the future. It’s really going to be a 21stcentury performance center with beautifully restored historic elements,” she said, while noting that the park will be considered as an outdoor extension of the center’s living space. Dick reported that the city’s open space plan is being finalized and will soon be presented to the city. “Through the charrettes and our outreach, we were able to get a much better idea of what’s on the mind of the public,” she said. The committee agreed on the importance of streetscapes as a major component of the city’s open spaces. “I like to call streets the parks we actually get to use,” said Cann.

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