Former Governor Don Carcieri is comfortable talking about what's been done construction-wise and what still needs to be done at the Olney House. When it comes to the science center he and his wife Sue plan to open there, however, he willingly cedes the floor.
"You talk about it," he urges his wife.
"We want to have a resource here for kids who want to do science projects or research for school projects," says Sue. "Books, computer programs. It's aimed at grades 5 through 8 – that was the last grade level that I taught."
Touring the Olney House with the Carcieris recently was a mixture of past, present, and future.
The past includes stories about Nicola Carcieri, Don's father, who both attended and taught at the East Greenwich Academy, the main high school in town before EGHS was established. The Olney House is one of just a couple of the Academy buildings that remain.
The future is filled with East Greenwich children learning about and studying science at the Olney House Science Center.
The present turns out to be less romantic. In fact, it's filled with the hard realities of trying to convert a building more than 100 years old into a modern public space. In other words, a building with up-to-code electrical wiring, plumbing system, and safety features (sprinklers and alarm).
It's been more than 12 years since the Carcieris took the Olney House off the Town of East Greenwich's hands, with a $1 payment for the building and a 100-year lease for the land.
The town had decided to demolish the building, a remnant of the private East Greenwich Academy, which provided a high school education for many EG residents up until it closed in 1943.
The Carcieris' plan had been, and remains, for the building to be reopened as a science center for children. But shortly after the town signed the building over to them, Don Carcieri was elected governor of Rhode Island and ever since then the building has sat ghost-like on the northeast corner of Academy Field.
Soon after Don stepped down from office, the couple sold their Kenyon Avenue house and moved to Saunderstown. Progress on the science center was slow at best.
The lack of progress prompted Tax Assessor Janice Peixinho to put it back on the tax roll, noting the Olney House Science Center's lapsed nonprofit status. When the house was put up for tax sale in 2012, the Carcieris protested, saying they didn't own the land and could only use the building as a science center – if for any reason they did not proceed with the science center, the building would need to be "sold" back to the town.
Even though the organization that owns the building lost its nonprofit status several years ago, the town removed from the tax roll. Nonprofit status has not yet been regained. According to Carcieri, paperwork to restore the status was filed last February.
In September, the building was in the midst of getting its fire alarm approved. Sprinklers had been installed throughout the space and gutters had been added. The interior of the building was rough at best, but according to the former governor, most of the hard work has been done.
"Once he finishes the fire alarm, then the contractor is ready to insulate and sheet rock," Carcieri said. But then he recalled that Kent County Water Authority needed to be consulted. A new water line from the house to the street is needed to be able to feed water to the sprinklers.
"Every time you turn around," he said, there's something else.
Carcieri estimates they've put $350,000 of their own money into the project so far. Grants will have to wait for the restoration of nonprofit status, but the Carcieris are hoping to get community support for the project and to open the first floor within the next few months.