Arts & Culture

New Life is Breathed into a Barrington Landmark

An old fire station is transformed into an artistic community center

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A century ago, firemen raced from the building to quench flames and rescue citizens from danger. Today, the building is a community center, recently renovated and updated. 170 Narragansett Avenue was constructed in 1911 as one of three fire stations in Barrington. Now it serves as a place for people to gather and a showcase for artists, musicians and poets.

In mid-October, Friends of the Bay Spring Community Center (BSCC) held a celebration marking the most recent renovation, the addition of a lift, which makes the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Since May 2011, events were held downstairs in order to accommodate everyone, but now the second floor, with its larger room and a stage, is accessible to all. The October event kicked o! outside in the building's backyard with games for the children, followed by several local musical groups and poets performing on stage on the second floor. Sydney Montstream-Quas, a board member of Friends of BSCC and a violinist and vocalist in the group Local Brew, talked about the event. “I love it. I'm a community person, so this is what it's all about, to bring people together.” Local Brew has performed 17 shows in the building since 2010.

Charles Cole was among the crowd who attended the event. Charles headed up the Bay Spring Neighborhood Crime Watch decades ago (now the Friends of the BSCC), beginning in 1985, a time when the fire station was no longer in use. “It was vacant probably 20 years. There was graffiti, broken windows,” Charles says. At the time, the fate of the building was under debate. “There were all kinds of things going around; we didn't want this building torn down.” Charles and other members of the crime watch started by clearing the space of beer bottles, and repairing years of disuse. “We plastered walls, put all new windows in, covered all the graffiti. We had a lot of fun doing it, throwing paint at one another.”

The building has seen some radical changes over the years, with changes in recent decades spurred on by community involvement. The lift was installed using $80,000 from the town, which still owns the building, and $7,000 was donated by Friends of the BSCC. The Bay Spring community has raised thousands for previous renovations, including work completed in 2008, which updated the kitchen and restrooms, replaced the boiler, and added a first floor wheelchair ramp and a fire suppression system throughout the building.

Dave Parkhurst, president of the Friends of the BSCC, said even when it was a new building it was used for scout meetings and more elegant occasions. “You can't build things like this anymore. People had ballrooms at the time. I've talked to a number of people who had dances here, they had weddings. Now that it's ADA compliant it will be accessible for the town to rent. It will become a vibrant part of the community again.” 170 Narragansett Avenue, West Barrington.

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