RIC Marks Renovation of Historic Yellow Cottage 

On Nov. 19, Rhode Island College hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony honoring the renovation of the 19th-century Yellow Cottage – a remnant of a former state orphanage – which is located on RIC’s east campus. The event also featured the dedication of the Richard Hillman Garden on the grounds of the cottage. Attendees included Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, contractors who worked on the building, and those involved in the State Home and School project, some of whom are former residents of the orphanage.

Yellow Cottage

RIC President Nancy Carriuolo offered attendees a history of the project, which represents the culmination of a collaborative effort – much of it pro bono – from architectural plans to interior renovation and construction to the surrounding landscaping.

The transformed Yellow Cottage features space for a large classroom, two conference rooms, an office and a museum that will feature public exhibits of photos, documents and other memorabilia from the years when the cottage was the state orphanage and school.

Carriuolo noted that approximately $275,000 worth of work on the latest renovations has been generously performed free of charge through various agreements between Rhode Island College and area contractors.

Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts said that through the work of those involved in the project, “this building will live again.” The initiative, she added, “is a testament to the strength of this college.”

Cutting the ribbon are, from left, RIC Professor Pierre Morenon; Gilbane Building Company President William Gilbane Jr.; RIC President Nancy Carriuolo; Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts; and architect Charles Hagenah.

Rhode Island College has been intent on renovating the cottage for modern-day usage since the early 2000s. Unexpectedly high costs and the 2008 financial crisis caused the initial plans for its use to fall through. In 2010 the college restarted the renovation project with a focus on turning the Yellow Cottage into much-needed classroom and office space and a museum to preserve records from the former state orphanage.

Aware of the need for local expertise for the design phase of the project, Carriuolo contacted Roger Williams University’s then-president Roy Nirschel and Stephen White, dean of the university’s School of Architecture, Art and Historic Preservation.

With their help, she was able to secure the services of architect Charles Hagenah, a Roger Williams professor whose generous donation of time and skill produced a design that reinforces the Yellow Cottage’s unique character while creating a functional, contemporary facility.

Carriuolo also met with William Gilbane Jr., president and CEO of Gilbane Building Company. Based in Providence, Gilbane is one of the largest private family-owned development and construction firms in the industry. In operation since 1873, the company is, in fact, the original builder of the Yellow Cottage, which dates back to the 1880s.

Gilbane’s work on the interior renovations, under the direction of the company’s Young Professionals group, was done on a pro-bono basis. The company also contracted with other companies, unions and individuals – with some of their work also done at no cost – to complete the interior renovations.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, William Gilbane recognized members of the state's building trades, many of whom worked on the Yellow Cottage after putting in a full day at their full-time jobs. “It’s a tribute to the community that we all live in,” Gilbane said.

The Charles Hagenah Conference Room is named in honor of Hagenah, and The William Gilbane Classroom will be named for the company’s co-founder (along with his brother Thomas).

Adjacent to the Yellow Cottage, a new garden was established in honor of the late RIC alum Richard Hillman ’83, MSW ’96. A career employee of the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families, Hillman had a passionate interest in the history of the Yellow Cottage and the “lost children” who once lived there.

Linking the past to the present and future, two plots in the garden are permanently designated for marigold flowers. Former residents reported that one of their favorite jobs was to go around and collect the seeds from the flowers, place them in a tin and replant them the next season.

RIC Professor Pierre Morenon, one of the founding members of the State Home and School Project, noted that 10,000 children passed through the orphanage between 1885 and 1979 when it closed.

“This is really a project about people, about children and families,” he said.

One of those people, Bob Allaire, resided in the Yellow Cottage some 63 years ago, when he was six. Allaire, who attended the ribbon cutting, said he had "good memories” of the orphanage. “I felt secure, loved.”

He noted that he has two daughters and a granddaughter who have graduated from RIC – the site where he spent part of his childhood.

“This is home,” he said.

The Yellow Cottage Museum is expected to open in January 2013.