Union Primary School, Rumford

also known as East Providence Community Center

A 30-year-vacant 19th-century schoolhouse gets a new life as residential apartments

About this Property


The Union Primary School is one of the oldest former school buildings in East Providence. The one-story structure with an end gable roof facing Pawtucket Avenue was built and designed by architect Christopher Dexter in 1873. The tower and south addition were added to the original structure in 1888, which was designed by Architect William Walker and Son. Later smaller additions occurred in 1900 and 1904. The red brick addition to the rear of the main structure was added in 1961, which was designed by Architect Michael Traficante.1

The school sat idle for 30 years since its closure after the merger of three elementary schools in Rumford following the construction of the Myron J. Francis School in 1989. The Union property ownership came back to the City after the consolidation.2

The school was lightly used over the years, most recently as a senior meals site and a Community Center. Finally, the City Council aproved a sale for $300,000 during its September 21, 2021 meeting, after a public RFP process during the preceding summer. The building was converted into eight apartments over the following two years.3

The architects David Sisson Group did a wonderful job maintaining the historic character while upgrading all the comfort systems and creating modern interior spaces full of space and light.

Current Events

The building’s eight apartments are rented up according to Zillow (July 2024), but may come up from time to time. There is no official website for the project that we can find.


Citywide Survey of Historic Public School Buildings, East Providence RI, Kathryn Cavanaugh, 2021

(Page 26) Union Grammar and Primary School, located at 1320 Pawtucket Avenue, was the fourth schoolhouse built in Rumford (following District Schools No. 2, 3, and 8), and was constructed to serve students in Districts 2 and 8. It is the only late 19th century schoolhouse still standing in that neighborhood.

Situated a short distance north of what was then the town center (at the intersection of Pawtucket Ave., Pleasant St., and Greenwood Ave.), this wood-frame school was built in several phases. The original building, designed by architect Christopher Dexter of East Providence and constructed in 1873-74 as a grammar school, was a one-story, gable-roofed, one-room structure similar to the seven district schools that the Town had constructed in the previous decade.

In 1888-89 a large, one-story, gable-roofed primary school addition with a distinctive Queen Anne-style tower was constructed perpendicular to the original building. This addition, and two others built at either end of the structure in 1900 and 1904, were all designed by the prominent Providence architectural firm of William R. Walker & Son, which designed multiple other East Providence schools over a period of about forty years. A 1961 brick one-story, flat-roofed addition at the rear of this building was designed by architect Michael Traficante.

School Superintendent James E. Farnum, writing in 1894, praised the Union Grammar and Primary School as providing “ample accommodations for both Grammar and Primary schools, each being separate and independent of the other. It is one of the best buildings in the town, is well lighted and ventilated, and with its recitation and other adjacent rooms is especially convenient for schoolwork.”

Eventually this entire building came to function exclusively as a primary, then an elementary school, and remained in that use until about 1990. After the school closed, the building served as a community center for several years. It is currently vacant. The City of East Providence has attempted several times in recent years to seek redevelopment proposals for Union Primary School, most recently in November 2020, but to date, no plans have come to fruition.

In the News

Perfect Union: A Former Schoolhouse Blends Chic with Historical Charm

by Dana Rae Laverty
Rhode Island Monthly | April 24, 2024 (abridged)

Two local firms teamed up to transform the once empty shell in Rumford into gleaming loft apartments.

For more than twenty years, the former Union Primary School sat vacant on its Pawtucket Avenue perch in the Rumford section of East Providence.

But now it stands as a marvel to adaptive reuse, after two firms teamed up to transform the empty shell into gleaming loft apartments that take full advantage of the high ceilings, sunny location and wide windows, all while keeping its historic character intact.

“The city really wanted it preserved,” says architect David Sisson. “We took some doors out and put some windows in, but by and large the exterior of the building — especially the front — is untouched.”

Sisson’s firm, David Sisson Architecture, teamed up with Touchdown Realty Group to redevelop the site after winning a public bid for the building in September 2021. Construction began in March 2022, with the goal of creating eight apartments — a mix of one- and two-bedrooms — inside the building.

Architect Christopher Dexter designed the one-room schoolhouse in 1873, with architectural firm William R. Walker & Son adding its distinctive tower and more rooms in 1888. (The firm also designed the Cranston Street and Pawtucket armories, the Avon Cinema and Cumberland Town Hall.) More additions followed in 1900 and 1904, and Sisson thinks work was also done in the 1950s and 1980s–1990s.

Generations of Rumford children attended the school throughout the years until the Myron J. Francis Elementary School replaced it in 1989. It then served as a community center for a time but closed shortly after.

It wasn’t that hard for the team to carve out spaces for the new apartments — they had 7,500 square feet of space to work with. They didn’t find any surprises or historical artifacts during the process, but Sisson did see a little furry friend one day while up in the attic.

“I was way back in there measuring stuff, trying to figure out how to get something to work, and I hear a little rustling sound. I look around and there’s a squirrel looking at me,” he says.

The team ripped out carpeting, replaced the windows (the existing Pella windows were in good condition, but those pesky squirrels had been gnawing on the sides), and added new plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems.

“It’s all brand new on the inside,” Sisson says.

The neutral palettes are easily adaptable for new residents and match the stainless steel appliances in the kitchen areas and luxurious bathrooms. Some units feature soaring cathedral ceilings, exposed ductwork and original interior beams, and all have central air conditioning and in-unit washers and dryers.

On the exterior, the team managed to salvage the school’s original sign and front door, and amber cedar shingles perfectly complement the matte black tower and roof. Inside, the former principal’s office inside the tower has been turned into a cozy nook, just perfect for a cafe dining setup.

With construction winding down, last September the team held an open house with the East Providence Historical Society. Many former students came by to reminisce, including the school’s last principal, David Kelleher, who stood marveling inside the space that was once his office and now houses a new generation of Rumford residents.

More photos and story captured 02 July 2024 from (rimonthly.com/perfect-union-a-former-schoolhouse-blends-chic-with-historical-charm/pic/255776/)[https://www.rimonthly.com/perfect-union-a-former-schoolhouse-blends-chic-with-historical-charm/pic/255776/]

  1. “City announces RFP for purchase of former Union Primary School.” City of East Providence, 18 November 2020. Accessed 02 July 2024 from https://eastprovidenceri.gov/news-announcements/purchasing/press-release-city-announces-rfp-purchase-former-union-primary-school 

  2. Rego, Mike. “East Providence agrees to sell long-dormant Union Primary School property.” East Bay RI, 29 September 2021. Accessed 02 July 2024 from https://www.eastbayri.com/stories/east-providence-agrees-to-sell-long-dormant-union-primary-school-property,93310 

  3. Ibid.