Providence Journal

3 projects benefit from federal grants

The Rose Island Light, Washington Square and the schooner Coronet will share almost $3 million.

01:00 AM EST on Wednesday, December 21, 2005

BY RICHARD SALIT
Journal Staff Writer

NEWPORT -- Nearly $3 million in federal money is expected to be headed here soon to help finance restoration projects at three historic landmarks -- Rose Island Light, Washington Square and the historic schooner Coronet.

The grants are:

$2.1 million to continue making Washington Square more pedestrian friendly and giving it more of a turn-of-century ambiance.

$330,851 for Rose Island Light to make it more accessible to the public and to repair deteriorated stonework at the old fort that surrounds it.

$200,000 to help restore the 120-year-old, 133-foot Coronet, owned by the International Yacht Restoration School.

The money, which is still awaiting final congressional approval, is funneled through to the state as part of the federal Transportation Enhancement Program. Forty-five projects in Rhode Island have been recommended to receive financing. A federal transportation bill has been passed, but Congress has yet to approve an appropriations bill to fund the program.

Two other proposed improvement projects -- one at Eisenhower Park and one to benefit the Broadway streetscape -- were not recommended for financing.

Washington Square The largest of the three Newport awards, $2.1 million, will pay for the second phase of work on Washington Square. The first phase, which is expected to be completed by this spring, was paid for with a previous $1.15-million transportation grant, said Public Works Director Julia Forgue.

The project is intended to make the square resemble itself 150 years ago. Work includes replacing modern streetlights with period fixtures, widening sidewalks and reconstructing them with bluestone pavers.

Work on the first phase has taken place around Colony House and on the park side of the square. A temporary traffic island was built at the intersection of Thames Street.

The next phase, which is slated to begin next fall, will replace the asphalt traffic island with bluestone and widen the sidewalks along the northern side of the square, where Yesterday's restaurant is located. The entire road surface will be stripped off and a new surface added. The traffic signal and controller will also be replaced.

"It's the bigger part of the whole project," said Forgue.

Rose Island Light Rose Island Light is also heading for the second phase of a restoration project. It was built in 1870 and abandoned 100 years later when construction of the Claiborne Pell Bridge replaced it as a navigational aid.

The Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation came to its rescue, completing a restoration job in 1993. The work was valued at $1 million, but cost only $400,000 thanks to donated materials, services and labor.

Now more than a decade later, there is work to be done that is so daunting it can't be tackled by volunteers, according to executive director Charlotte Johnson. Much of it is heavy stone work.

Repairs to old sections of Fort Hamilton, which was built before the lighthouse, from 1798-1800, are necessary. These include a long stretch of stone wall near the island's boat landing and the bastion beneath the light. Other planned improvements include repairs to the light itself, such as making it safer for the public to climb to the lantern room. Public access will also be enhanced by upgrading the boat landing.

"We have a very small float that is pretty close to shore. It's only 6 feet of water. We can't get large boats to it," which precludes people with disabilities from visiting, Johnson said. "By extending the new dock further and putting in new pilings, we can accommodate larger boats and increase public access."

Since much of the island is closed to the public to protect nesting birds, Johnson said the foundation has another idea to improve access -- visual access anyway. The group is looking into the installation of video-cameras that would provide a variety of views of the island on the Internet. Computer users could actually aim the cameras at what they choose to see, said Johnson.

When the first restoration took place, a windmill was built to provide energy for the light. The environmental improvements will continue in the next project, with the addition of a composting toilet and solar power to minimize dependence on a back-up diesel generator when winds are light in the summer.

The total cost of these improvements is estimated at $551,000, with $330,851 expected from the transportation grant.

"We still need to raise another $200,000," said Johnson.

She hopes the money can be raised quickly enough to allow the work to begin next year and to be completed in time for the Tall Ships gathering in Newport in the summer of 2007.

Coronet There is no such urgency for Coronet, the schooner yacht that has been hauled out of the water at the International Yacht Restoration School and stripped of her rigging and Gilded Age interior woodwork until her restoration is complete.

The school recently announced that it plans to restore the old Aquidneck Mill building on its Thames Street campus, at a cost of more than $6 million, before undertaking the estimated $13 million to $15 million renovation of Coronet.

Coronet, built in 1885, is renowned for her opulence and feats in transatlantic racing and ocean exploration. She sits on a cradle beneath a temporary, 40-foot tall building and may be viewed by the public.

"Any gift of money is a wonderful thing to have," said marketing director Susan Daly, who welcomes the transportation grant even though Coronet's restoration is on hold. When it comes to attracting donors for the school's various projects, "Things like this can help us."

She said the school applied for the grant for Coronet before it decided to focus its resources on the Aquidneck Mill building. The mill space will be used to expand the school's curriculum and house its administrative offices.

Reporter Richard Salit can be reached at (401) 277-7467 or by e-mail at rsalit@projo.com