Greater City Providence

Both sides claiming victory in Grove Street School decision


The Providence Journal reports today on a RI Supreme Court decision that has both sides in the Grove Street School saga claiming victory.

The Supreme Court ruling overturns a lower court decision ordering the City to issue a demolition permit for the partially demolished former school house. The demolition order was stayed when the city appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the city should not be ordered to demolish the building, but that it should be declared unsafe. Generally, when a building is declared by the city to be unsafe, the next step has been to demolish it (see The Old Pubic Safety Complex and Old Fruit and Produce Warehouse).

So where exactly does this leave the Grove Street School? The Journal quotes Michael Tarro, an assistant city solicitor and one of the surviving children of Richard Tarro who bought the building from the city in 1993 as saying, “If something could be done to restore it, I would do it. But all the engineering and data I have shows that it would be impossible financially to rehabilitate.” The Tarros wanted to tear down the school to provide parking for their funeral home business across the street. However, during the trial, the City produced expert witnesses who testified just the opposite, and the Court ruled that the building should not be ordered demolished.

The WBNA has taken a lead on trying to find parties interested in redeveloping the building. The Journal quotes Anne Taite, President of the WBNA, “there is a lot of potential for redesign now that it has been partially torn down. It’s an opportunity to merge a new, modern style with the old.”

I like what Anne is saying here, it is what I have seen for the future of the building. As Vicki Veh, interim president of the Providence Preservation Society stated to the Journal, the habit of demolition by neglect has to stop in Providence. The Grove Street School can and should be where we the residents drew a line in the sand and told the City enough. Hold property owners responsible and stop letting our architectural heritage melt away. The school with a clearly modern appendage healing the demolition wound could be a monument to that insistence. It could visually speak to this being the last time we let this happen.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • So, if the Tarro family prevails, what this means is that city ordinances are meaningless. If you want to demolish a building, first damage the building illegally, so late a judge can rule that the city must deem the building unsafe, so that then you can obtain a legal demolition permit. Whatever the fine was for the Tarros, it couldn’t have been high enough. They probably planned for fines as an expense item for developing their parking lot.

    Though different circumstances the demolition of the Fruit and Vegetable echoes the latest the Grove Street School. Surface parking, especially on a large scale is a destructive outdated use that undermines and will ultimately destroy the city, if allowed to continue unchecked. A daily tax on individual surface parking spaces on all city land, whether private, non-profit, institutional, or government might begin to address this persistent destructive land-use problem.

  • I’ve been thinking long and hard about this, because I happen to live across the street. I try my best not to be impulsive, but all I can say is this:

    Eminent Domain.

    The supreme court decision is invaluable in this case; it sets a legal precedent on demolition by neglect, and explicitly protects this building. However, all we have now is a stale mate between the two respective parties; an asshole property owner who refuses to accept any offers on the property despite its low appraisal value at $225,000, and repeated evidence that the building is still very much structurally sound, and the City, who has it in writing from the state’s highest court that this building cannot come down, or else. As long as the city insists on “respecting” this owner’s property rights, this stale mate will continue until this building is nothing but a pile of bricks. I understand that the use of Eminent Domain is an extremely touchy issue, but if there’s ANY case that warrants it, it’s this one. My message to the city: take it back! When a criminal abuses their right to freedom, he gets locked up. This is no different.

  • The Journal has an update on Grove Street School. The city is ordering the Tarro Family to make repairs to the building that they illegal started demolishing in 2007.

    “The city is not acknowledging the condition of that building,” Tarro said recently. “The building is structurally unsound and not feasible to repair. It would cost $570,000 to do the necessary repairs, at least.”

    The new city order calls for the Tarros to repair holes in the floor and roof, weather-proof and stabilize damaged sections, remove debris, install guard rails on staircases, install a padlock and chainlink fence around the perimeter and repair load-bearing walls.

    Anderson says that the Tarros can still seek permission to demolish the building, but it would still require approval from the Historic District Commission.

  • I continue to be amused by the idea that the city is somehow the bad guy in all this. The article quotes the remaining Tarro son as saying that the building is in such rough shape it should be torn down, as though the family has no culpability in the disaster it has become! And, they have supporters! What is up with that?

    The PRA should buy it for fair market value, which would be for the land only at this point and put out an RFP for the rebuild and reuse and just get that property out of the Tarro’s hands once and for all.

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