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Historic facelift for Newport yacht school

The restoration of the Aquidneck Mill Building owned by the International Yacht Restoration School (IYRS) in Newport, R.I., has received a transfusion of cash.

The restoration of the Aquidneck Mill Building owned by the International Yacht Restoration School (IYRS) in Newport, R.I., has received a transfusion of cash.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) announced $500,000 in federal funding for the project at an event April 28.

“This is a great project for the restoration of the waterfront,” says Reed. “By doing this, we increase the opportunities for young people to master skills in the marine trade necessary to help the economy.”

Reed says this project also preserves Newport’s history. Located on Thames Street adjacent to the campus of IYRS, the Aquidneck was built in 1831 for cotton manufacturing in the midst of a fledgling waterfront town. The Jamestown green granite building housed 4,356 spindles for weaving cotton into thread and later was given a brick addition when it was bought by Richmond Co., expanding it to 9,632 spindles and 30,000 square feet. In 1884, Richmond Co. closed its doors, and the building was owned by a number of companies before being bought by IYRS in 1995.

“As the founder, it is so great for me to see the school continuing and expanding,” says Elizabeth Meyer, who co-created the school in 1993 with maritime artist John Mecray and a group of educators and boat designers. “I’ve retired from the school, but it was my whole life for 14 years, and it is really great to see that it is self-sustaining and self-governing. Success is when you are gone and it’s still there.”

The IYRS is a non-profit institution dedicated to education and maritime preservation. It teaches the skills, history, art and science of building through restoring the old, rather than building anew. Meyer says the plans for the mill dovetail with the base philosophy of the school.

“Keeping pieces of history alive is thrilling,” says Meyer. “It is much more complicated and difficult, but it is much more rewarding.”

The mill is on the National Register of Historic Places, although it has been derelict until now. Work began on the site in September 2007 under the direction of Newport Collaborative Architects and Lydia Bergeron, vice president of finance and general manager of IYRS.

“This has been a long time in the process; we’ve been looking at this for eight years,” says Bergeron. “It really was a funding issue.”

Bergeron says they chose Newport Architects because they had done reconstruction on the Perry Mill, also on Thames Street, in 1981. Perry Mill now houses several shops, a bar and the Newport Bay Club. The firm is also working with construction manager Farrar & Associates, also based in Newport. Bergeron says the first floor will be used for programming for the town’s Museum of Yachting as well as a library for IYRS and the public. The rest of the building will be rented out for office space. So far, several firms such as Sparkman & Stephens, Boothbay Harbor Shipyard and Legacy Yachts have expressed interest, bringing new concentrations of maritime businesses to the area and the school’s campus.

“We hope to be done by December and have occupancy following that,” says Bergeron. “Though the walls will be covered, we will leave spaces open so people can see what the original building looks like. For instance, we will leave a window open so people can see the original iron spiral staircase we discovered during construction.”

While some of the walls and floors have been reinforced, Bergeron says they were surprised at how solid the building is.

“We weren’t certain how strong it was,” says Bergeron. “But the integrity of the walls still hold.”

The cost estimate for the entire project is $7.5 million and will qualify for other state and federal tax credits, according to Susan Daly, vice president of marketing for IYRS. For information, go to