AAA's big plans for Apponaug's saw tooth building

Warwick Beacon ·

Windows are broken or boarded up, there are no lights, and it is evident the building is unoccupied.

The saw tooth building, a survivor from the 1961 fire that destroyed much of the Apponaug Mill, appears unchanged since the adjoining People’s Moving and Storage was demolished and the state reconfigured the village highways with the circulator. But there’s life in the mill building, which was built in the early 1900s, and there’s a brighter future for it and the adjoining historical Greene Memorial House – the red house at the former Apponaug Four Corners.

“I have a passion for these mills. They built them to last,” said Mark Shaw, chairman of the board of AAA Northeast, in an interview Tuesday.

AAA bought the saw tooth building in a state auction on June 21, 2017, for $875,000. Shaw further said that the company is expected to close on the purchase of the Greene home this week.

Shaw is looking for a third piece of property now owned by the state to complete the puzzle. That land is next to the saw tooth building and across the street from Dunkin’ Donuts.

“It’s taken a lot longer because of all the processes,” Shaw said, explaining he had hoped conversion of the former mill into office space would have started sooner. Much of the delay was tied to the Apponaug Circulator project and the fact that construction equipment relating to the project was on the site.

AAA then solicited bids from architects and has settled on the husband/wife team of Matthew and Rebecca McGeorge in East Greenwich.

“They’re a small firm, but we like them,” Shaw said.

Furthermore, he’s excited by their interest in the project and the challenges of preserving the character of the structure while meeting AAA objectives.

Matthew McGeorge said Wednesday that the firm has completed building measurements and he will be meeting with the city planner and representatives from the Historic District Commission this Friday to review plans.

The plan, Shaw explained, is to use the two floors of the building with a combined 37,000 square feet to replace the existing offices on Centerville Road while adding classrooms and a base for about six road service vehicles. This would give AAA a centrally located center – presently, service vehicles are deployed from Providence or South County to respond to Warwick calls. The center, with three to four bays, would also handle repairs for AAA vehicles only.

Shaw said AAA is exploring the use of solar panels on the roof and is looking into the feasibility of cutting an opening in the second-story flooring so as to create an atrium with natural lighting within the building. He estimated 50 to 75 people would work out of the building.

The building would have the space for AAA to conduct student driver education and training classes. Shaw said up until recently, the state argued the classes had to be conducted in a state building by law. AAA researched the law and the state agreed that the intent of the law did not require that the 33 hours of classes be held on state property.

All the work needed won’t happen quickly or without a substantial investment.

One of the immediate issues to be addressed are the interior roof drains. The drains are clogged and water now gushes out on the first floor. In addition, there are some environmental issues, such as asbestos, he said.

Shaw said AAA would be working with Case Construction, and there is a relationship with the company pre-dating Shaw’s tenure with AAA. He and Frank Gustafson, president of Case, have been friends since they were boys.

There’s time to do it right.

“There’s no speed to market here,” Shaw said, explaining that the lease for the Centerville Road office doesn’t expire until 2020.

Shaw met with Mayor Joseph Solomon in December to go over plans for the building and outline his interest in expanding the footprint of the property with purchase of the state-owned parcel. That third piece would allow for additional parking and access.

Also being considered is a pedestrian bridge from the second story of the saw tooth, enabling customers to directly enter those offices and, as Shaw points out, employees to visit Dunkin’ Donuts.

Solomon welcomed AAA. He said Tuesday he is excited by plans for the building as well as AAA’s plan to acquire the Greene home.

The Greene house – which, according to a history of Warwick written by the late Don D’Amato, was given by Francis Greene, the son of the Civil War hero General George Sears Greene, to the Rhode Island Episcopal Convention – could become a guest house. Francis Greene’s intention was for the house to be used as a rectory for St. Barnabas Church and as a memorial to his father. D’Amato points out in more recent times the house was owned by the Red Cross and then Russell Howard, who owned People’s Moving and Storage.

Shaw said the plan would be for AAA employees from outside the area to have access to the house while on business in Rhode Island.

Getting to that point, however, is going to take some work. Shaw said the property is in desperate need of attention and it may be more practical to replicate the existing structure.

Whether building an exact replica or extensive renovations, he put the price tag at $500,000. The bigger project of the saw tooth building he placed at $5 million.

Shaw notes that is a substantial investment for AAA, but, as he notes, AAA has no intention of moving again.