‘Disappointed’ Paolino looks to sell St. Joseph’s building after education leaders nix school plan

JOSEPH R. PAOLINO JR., former Providence mayor and managing partner for Paolino Properties LP, says he's disappointed that the city is not moving forward with the plan for him to donate the former St. Joseph's Hospital building to the city for it to be converted into a new school. /PBN FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO
JOSEPH R. PAOLINO JR., former Providence mayor and managing partner for Paolino Properties LP, says he's disappointed that the city is not moving forward with the plan for him to donate the former St. Joseph's Hospital building to the city for it to be converted into a new school. /PBN FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO

PROVIDENCE – Two years ago, developer Joseph R. Paolino Jr. wanted to give back to the city he once oversaw as mayor by providing property for a new school. His idea was to donate the former St. Joseph’s Hospital on Peace Street to the city to be converted into a new K-8 school, after his attempt to turn the property into housing received heavy community opposition.

Paolino, now managing partner for Paolino Properties LP, says he answered R.I. Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green’s public call asking property owners to contribute buildings and other property to help the city improve its school building infrastructure.

But Paolino now says he will apparently have to explore other options for the property, including selling it, after the Providence Public School District and the R.I. Department of Education chose to nix plans to convert the hospital property into two new schools. RIDE spokesperson Victor Morente confirmed to Providence Business News that the former hospital will not be utilized as part of the district’s $500 million plan to renovate and construct new school buildings across the city.

Morente said the proposed project for the hospital property would have been too costly. He said it would cost $76 million to demolish and rebuild at the hospital site. He said the eight-story building has many small patient rooms “that are not conducive to a renovation. Demolishing and abating the hazardous materials would have alone cost more than $5 million,” Morente said in a Dec. 16 email, and another $5 million for site work and utility relocations.

- Advertisement -

“The district is looking to build a single pre-K-8 dual-language facility. Neither of the two parcels on Peace Street are big enough to accommodate this, so the district would have needed to build two separate buildings rather than one,” Morente said.

Instead, Morente said the district will save $18 million and utilize those savings to turn the Harry Kizirian Elementary School into a prekindergarten-8 school, which will be a $55 million project, Morente said. Initially, the Kizirian project was approved in May as a K-5 project for $36.8 million, Morente said, and will now be expanded.

The district, as part of the decision to not move forward on the St. Joseph’s building, will also spend $56 million to make the Mary Fogarty Elementary School into a pre-K-8 facility, Morente said.

Faith Chybowski, spokesperson for Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, said that the city was excited at first by the prospect of transforming the former hospital building into a new school. However, RIDE, PPSD and city officials had ongoing conversations to review the viability of the property as enrollment projections and construction estimates have fluctuated, she said.

Paolino told PBN on Dec. 16 he “heard rumors” that the city may not move forward and project costs were “getting too expensive.” Initially, Paolino said, RIDE and PPSD wanted to build one school on the property and then changed plans to possibly build two schools there. Paolino said he then heard from Infante-Green that the project “may be too expensive for us.”

Paolino said he was disappointed about the outcome in the aftermath of a “boom economy” for real estate he says existed two years ago. That’s when he says he took the property off the market to help the city rather than take advantage of high market prices.

To date, Paolino says he has not received a formal notice that the city will not move forward in accepting the property as a donation. When asked if he reached out to the city about the notice, Paolino said: “It’s not up to me to reach out to them; they should reach out to me.”

“So now, we’re in the middle of a recession. Interest rates have tripled. Quite frankly, I think I’ve been [financially] harmed,” Paolino said. When asked if he wanted to address this legally with the city, the former mayor remarked, “you can’t fight City Hall.”

“I did it with my eyes open and I did it for the right reasons,” Paolino said. “I’m glad I offered it to the city and I’m disappointed that the city is not going through with it [making the hospital into a school].”

Chybowski said that while conversations with RIDE, PPSD and the city are ongoing about the hospital building’s future use, decisions related to the building and the city’s agreement with Paolino “will be made by future leaders.”

Emily Crowell, spokesperson for Mayor-elect Brett Smiley, told PBN the incoming mayor is not in the position to determine the former St. Joseph’s building’s future use while there is an administration transition taking place. She said Smiley will need to review the large scope of school construction initiatives in the city, including what was planned at the former hospital, once he assumes office next month.

Per the original agreement, according to Paolino, if the city chose to move forward turning the former hospital into a school facility, he would donate the hospital building, the chapel and the 1.5-acre parking lot to the city once officials provided construction dates and meet other requirements from Paolino.

“I’m glad I did [the agreement] that way, because I would have to try and fight [the city] to get it back now,” said Paolino, who also noted the building is still in his possession.

The agreement, Paolino said, would also include him dropping a lawsuit he says he filed against the city several years ago for what he claims was an attempt to charge a “double-tax” on the hospital property, forcing both Paolino and Prospect CharterCARE – the hospital building’s previous owner. Paolino said when he purchased the St. Joseph’s building, he told city officials the taxes he would have to pay have to come off what CharterCARE was paying. However, he said the city was also planning to charge CharterCARE taxes on the property after the health entity sold it, because the hospital building had a tax-stabilization agreement with the city.

“You can’t double-tax property. No administration would allow double taxation,” Paolino said. “If somebody has a tax stabilization on two properties [Roger Williams Hospital being the other], and they sell one of those properties, the new owner assumes whatever the tax would be on that property. Then, CharterCARE should get relieved from [the taxes] because the new owner is going to pay it. The [former] city tax assessor disagreed. So, we had a lawsuit.

“But I was donating this [building] to help the kids of the city,” Paolino said, adding he has not decided yet whether to proceed with the lawsuit.

“I think the city recognizes that [it was wrong to double tax],” Paolino said. “But we may need to remind the city about it.”

Elorza’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the pending tax dispute with Paolino.

Looking ahead, Paolino noted that the city needs housing and says the property is suitable to put about 340 housing units if the existing buildings are kept in place.

“Maybe one of the neighborhood housing corporations would like to take it over and put neighborhood housing there,” Paolino said, noting the zoning where the former hospital is allows for “an academic campus and for housing.”

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

No posts to display