Grebien feels Pawtucket is rebounding with new stadium, high school coming soon

WITH THE TIDEWATER LANDING soccer stadium under construction and Pawtucket voters approving a bond to build a new high school, Mayor Donald R. Grebien feels the city is on the rebound. / PBN FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO
WITH THE TIDEWATER LANDING soccer stadium under construction and Pawtucket voters approving a bond to build a new high school, Mayor Donald R. Grebien feels the city is on the rebound. / PBN FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO

PAWTUCKET – Is the city sensing a rebound to once again becoming a prominent community in Rhode Island? Mayor Donald R. Grebien seems to think so.

The city is on track to get a new high school after city voters on Nov. 8 overwhelmingly approved a $330 million bond to build a new high school that is slated to be constructed on the site of McCoy Stadium. According to the city, the proposed new school would consolidate students from the Charles E. Shea and William E. Tolman high schools in one 482,500-square-foot building, housing approximately 2,500 students.

This comes as construction is underway on the new Tidewater Landing soccer stadium near Division Street, a couple of new and renovated city schools are coming online and the new Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority commuter rail station on the Central Falls border is nearly ready to open early next year.

These developments are a marked difference from the financial straits the city had been in the past, Grebien said.

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“We were under the potential of the state taking over, so we had to get our finances improved,” Grebien said. “Then it shifted to [addressing] quality-of-life issues in our schools and roads, the basic stuff that was not happening. We’re doing it now.”

Grebien also credited Gov. Daniel J. McKee’s administration for investing in the city and the Blackstone Valley area, which Grebien says is what the city needed. McKee, who is chairman of the R.I. Commerce Corp.’s board of directors, was the deciding vote in July on approving the reworked financing plan for the soccer stadium’s construction.

City officials have for years discussed potential opportunities for the Tolman and Shea buildings, Grebien said, which have a combined age of 179. Grebien said Tolman could be used for residential use given its “high value” being located along the Blackstone River. With Shea, Grebien says there are discussions about either turning the property over to a developer to create residential units or renovating it to become the new Samuel Slater Middle School.

WILLIAM E. TOLMAN High School in Pawtucket could have a possible future residential use after the new high school is built in approximately five years, according to Mayor Donald R. Grebien. / COURTESY WILLIAM E. TOLMAN HIGH SCHOOL
WILLIAM E. TOLMAN High School in Pawtucket could have a residential use after the new high school is built in approximately five years, according to Mayor Donald R. Grebien. / COURTESY WILLIAM E. TOLMAN HIGH SCHOOL

The revenue aspect is critical for the city, Grebien said, referencing the potential mixed-use developments planned to surround Tidewater Landing. He said the new revenue generated from the stadium will offset having to raise taxes on residents, and hopes for similar revenue with possible Tolman and Shea projects.

“The benefit would be it could bring in new people potentially, new activities and a new revenue stream above and beyond what we already have,” Grebien said. “We’re building our budget potential on these new revenues.”

However, Grebien said discussions with city leaders and the public are needed about the future of the existing high schools. For now, Grebien said the city has to maintain Tolman and Shea while planning and construction on the new school take place. The new school is not expected to open until at least 2027.

According to city officials, it costs the city on average $435,000 combined over the last three years to maintain both high schools. Grebien noted that the city may need to invest more to keep them operational because the city “can’t let them deteriorate anymore.”

Grebien acknowledged the new high school project is bittersweet because the school will replace the home of the former Pawtucket Red Sox, where the team played for 50 years until it moved to Worcester, Mass., in 2021.

“We did everything we could to keep the PawSox here. It just did not happen, and now we need to move on,” Grebien said. “We knew that McCoy was too costly to renovate and reutilize as a baseball stadium.”

MCCOY STADIUM will be replaced with a new high school to be built on the site of the former Pawtucket Red Sox home. / PBN FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL MELLO
MCCOY STADIUM will be replaced with a new high school to be built on the site of the former Pawtucket Red Sox home. / PBN FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL MELLO

Grebien said engineers will see if it is possible to include some of McCoy’s existing structure in the new high school. Those answers, including when and how much of McCoy will be demolished, will be answered in the coming months during the design phase, the mayor said.

Madeleine Mondor, the widow of the late PawSox owner Ben Mondor, donated  $1 million to the city for scholarships for local youths to be put in a trust fund as a way of maintaining the PawSox’s legacy, Grebien said. The city also will host in July a final hurrah to McCoy, Grebien’s office said, allowing people a final chance to see the stadium.

How much PawSox history will be displayed by the city afterward remains unclear. In 2021, the city filed a lawsuit against the team alleging it failed to repair and maintain McCoy as obligated to do under a contract, according to The Associated Press. As part of that lawsuit, Grebien alleges the team brought “everything of value from a history standpoint” to Worcester and left the city it called home since 1970 behind.

Grebien’s office said the next steps in the lawsuit will likely be depositions. Worcester Red Sox representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Looking ahead, Grebien says more partnerships between city officials and state leaders are needed to help the city even more. With the past and future development occurring in the city, Grebien said the city needs to find ways to make it sustainable and continue to breathe life back into the state’s largest city north of Providence.

“I do think we’re on the rebound. There’s now investment in Pawtucket,” Grebien said.

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.

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