Repurposed History

Big plans for the Tockwotton building

East Side Monthly Magazine ·

There has been much speculation and, let’s face it, worry, about what might become of the Tockwotton Home building on East Street in India Point. When Tockwotton Home moved to its new facility across the river in East Providence this past January, it left behind an empty building in need of a new owner and a new purpose. This August, if all goes according to plan, the building will have both, becoming home to Roosevelt International Academy and an entirely different group of residents - international high school students.

Benjamin “Ben” Tre, a founder and managing partner of RIA, invited Fox Point residents to a March 29 informational meeting about his proposal to establish a boarding school, of sorts, in the vacant Tockwotton building. At press time, Ben had a purchase and sale agreement on the property and an April 3 hearing date with the city for a special use permit.

Ben has local roots. He grew up in Providence, went to the Gordon School and Moses Brown and lives in Central Falls. His background is in real estate and community development. “RIA will be partnering with well-established day schools in the Providence area,” Ben explains, “to create a high school diploma program for foreign students.” Partnering agreements are currently in place with Moses Brown, Wheeler, Lincoln School, Providence Country Day, St. Raphael Academy, Bishop Hendricken, St. Mary’s Bay View and Mt. Hope High School.

Ben hopes to expand RIA’s collaboration with public schools, but present regulations that restrict public school student visas to one year. No such restriction applies to private schools. The intention of the program is to have students here for the entire four years of high school but there will be some who come for a one-year program. Students attending public schools will be paying tuition to the school.

“The rooms at Tockwotton will be used as dorm space, with modifications to accommodate double occupancy, and for classrooms and administrative offices,” says Ben. At full capacity the school will enroll 118 students. RIA staffing will include teachers, residential advisors and administrators, with on-site staffing 24 hours per day. Students will be at their partnering schools during the day and will be encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities. RIA will provide an additional 25 hours of academics per week, including language skills instruction. There will be a community service component to the program and structured field trips. “Operationally,” Ben proposes, “there will not be a big change to the way the building is used, no changes to its façade and no expansion of existing space.”

Questions from those in attendance on March 29 centered on issues of transportation, parking and what impact a group of high school students might have on neighborhood tranquility. Ben said that, “60% of RIA students will be walking to already existing pick-up points for buses that transport East Side students to various schools. RIA will have one yellow bus, stored off-site, to transport the others and to accommodate students participating in extracurricular activities. The pick-up point will be on George Cohan Boulevard and will not coincide with Vartan Gregorian’s bus schedule. RIA students will not have cars, nor will they be permitted to drive a car. RIA will not be seeking any parking restrictions on local streets.” As for neighborhood tranquility, “the RIA students will have a very rigorous academic schedule and planned weekend activities and there will be very strict security policies for students checking in and out of the building. India Point Park will be a big resource for the students.” Ben added that, “RIA is a for-profit entity, meaning the Tockwotton property would be back on the tax rolls.” He predicted that students and their visiting parents will patronize local stores, giving an additional economic boost to the neighborhood.

It is safe to say that by the end of the informational meeting an initial skepticism had given way to cautious optimism. Dennis Hlynsky, who lives directly across the street from Tockwotton Home, noted that high school students would certainly bring a different kind of energy to the area. He wondered if potential problems were being downplayed. “You have addressed all the concerns, but your words are carefully chosen,” he said, noting however that RIA’s proposal was “not a bad use for this building.”

Eileen Afonso, a Fox Point native, encouraged RIA to teach students about the history of Fox Point. “Don’t allow a disconnect between the school and the community.” Afonso also hoped that the Tockwotton name could be maintained. Ben recognized the inherent historic value of the building and said that the month long orientation program will include an historical component. Students will be encouraged to be part of the community, perhaps volunteering at Vartan Gregorian School and Tockwotton Home.

Michelle Boutin, of Point Properties, was enthusiastic about RIA’s proposal overall. “I don’t think there could be a better thing to come here. Young energy is a good thing.” Paul Wackrow attended the meeting on behalf of Providence Preservation Society. Noting that no work will be done to the exterior of the building and very little to the interior, he said that PPS is excited to know that an active use is being planned for the historic building. “We will be closely monitoring the project as it moves forward.”

If all goes according to plan, Ben expects the first group of students to arrive in Providence around August 1. Many of these students will be Chinese, but the intention is to diversify and attract students from Latin America, South America and Southeast Asia. For those who are wondering, the name of the school came from Roosevelt Avenue in Central Falls. Originally the school was going to be part of a bigger development project, but the timing did not work out. Good news for Fox Point?

Tockwotton home, international, high school, students, Benjamin Tre, Roosevelt International Academy, history, building, east side monthly