Long Neglected City Recreation Center Getting Attention
Mayor Bob DaSilva to meet with skeptical senior citizens Friday
The old red brick building sitting high at 100 Bullocks Point Avenue in Riverside was built as the Riverside Junior High School in 1930. It was replaced by the current Riverside Middle School on Forbes Street in 1967. Since then it has served as a makeshift recreation center, a Self-Help program with various social services offered and in June of 2013, it was given to the East Bay Community Action Program (EBCAP). EBCAP is a private, non-profit 501 (c) (3) corporation that provides a wide array of health and human services to the residents of Rhode Island’s East Bay including the municipalities of East Providence, Barrington, Warren, Bristol, Little Compton, Tiverton, Portsmouth, Middletown, Newport and Jamestown.
The City of East Providence maintained space as a recreation center but it has been in such dis-repair that the old gymnasium has been unusable for two years or more. "This site (gym) is deplorable and should not house any programs," a former city official with close knowledge of the building told the Reporter. The Reporter visited the site many times and observed parts of the original ceiling falling away and sub-par conditions throughout. The city stopped using the gymnasium a long time ago.
Twice before city residents have overwhelmingly supported referenda to construct a new recreation center for all ages. And twice, prior elected officials refused the public mandate and ignored the bonding process. The city has been without a viable recreation center ever since.
Recently new Mayor Bob DaSilva raised some eyebrows when he decided to pull out of the 90 year old Riverside building when he found out the cost to taxpayers to remain there. "When I learned the amount of money we paid in each of the last five years for the use of the Riverside Recreation Center with a basketball court that had been unusable for more than 18 months I decided to take a tour of the facility," said DaSilva. "I was very disappointed in what I saw and I know we can do better for our children," he said. The city has paid out $382,647.85 from 2014 through 2018. The money spent was for gas, water, electric, self help and custodial fees.
DaSilva decided to move the bulk of the services from the old center to the senior center grounds off Waterman Avenue. "My goal is to work towards building a true recreational facility here in East Providence. In the meantime our children will have a safe, clean and centrally located space to use at the Senior Center facility. Currently, for the most part the Senior Center locks its doors at 3 and everyone is out by 4 pm. The children's programs start after 4:30 pm and they will be confined to the original older Senior Center portion of the building," explained the Mayor.
Some seniors who frequent the senior center are not sure how they feel about the move. Ken Goucher spoke before the last city council meeting to oppose the move. Goucher has been a member and a volunteer at the senior center for about 15 years. "I'm worried that the two groups may not meld together well. We have nothing against youth but do they want to be with us," Goucher told the council. Many seniors have signed a petition to oppose this move.
"Our goal is to have minimal impact on the senior programs with the hope of eventually starting inter-generational programs where the seniors interact with the children and each age group benefits from new friendships and relationships," he added. Mayor DaSilva has scheduled a meeting with members of the senior center on Friday morning to discuss his plan in detail. The Mayor said the senior center site at the corner of Waterman and Pawtucket Avenues has plenty of room for expansion and eventual construction of a "reasonably priced recreation building."