PAWTUCKET — In what seems like an ideal match, a company that specializes in architectural history and preservation is planning to make its new home at the city's landmark To Kalon Club.
The Public Archaeology Laboratory, Inc. (PAL), a leading authority in cultural resource management, has signed a purchase and sales agreement for the three-level, 13,199-square foot building at 26 Main St. The independent, non-profit company plans to move its headquarters from its current location at 210 Lonsdale Ave. to the historical structure that served as a prominent social club for more than a hundred years.
Stephen Olausen, executive director for PAL, said the sprawling brick structure that sits on one acre of land near I-95, was found to be a good fit for the company, which has about 50 employees.
He said the building's size, location and, most importantly, its impressive, century-old architecture were the draw for a group of professionals who make their living by being history buffs.
“We're a historic preservation company, and this building gives us the chance to upgrade our image from the modern building that we're currently in,” said Olausen.
The board members of the TK Club think the pairing of their beloved club building with PAL is a good decision as well. “We're very pleased that Public Archaeology Laboratory has bought it,” said TK Club President Greg Troy. “We're comfortable they will be the right fit. They have indicated that they will be putting a lot of money in to the building to restore it to its former glory so it can continue to be a viable and proud landmark for Pawtucket.”
Troy said that the board had originally hoped to find a buyer that would allow the social club to continue to meet in the building, but that was not to be. In the end, the decision came down to a matter of economics and the reality that the dwindled membership could not continue to afford the upkeep and maintenance of the large structure. “That building was just not fit for us anymore with the remaining membership,” said Troy. He said the club members would now start discussing if they want to continue to meet in a new location or how to proceed going forward.
Details of the sale have not yet been made public, although Troy did say that it had been purchased for less than the original asking price of $600,000. The PAL was selected from a group of four bidders who had put in offers for the historical property constructed in 1908. Controversy erupted recently after it became public that one bidder, businessman Louis Yip, was part of a group of investors that had hoped to use the iconic building as the site of a medical marijuana compassion center.
According to its website, PAL is a leading authority in cultural resource management and specializes in terrestrial and marine archeology, architectural history, research and documentation, and preservation planning throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic. Since its establishment in 1982, PAL has successfully completed more than 1,600 projects in the areas of cultural resource management, historic preservation and planning, and regulatory consultation and compliance for clients that include federal, state and local agencies; non-profit institutions, and private developers.
Olausen said PAL plans to do extensive renovations to the building to modernize it and bring it up to current building and fire safety codes while at the same time working to maintain and preserve as much of the original architecture as possible. “We'll be dividing the space in a way that will not destroy the building's character,” he stated. He said the rehabilitation work will be done in a manner consistent with federal and state historic guidelines.
Some of the plans include the third-floor bedrooms—once used as overnight lodging for traveling businessmen—to be turned into offices as well as the second floor, which contains a large function rooms and a billiards room.
The main floor, which now houses the members' dining room, private dining room and a main sitting area, punctuated by a grand, sweeping staircase, will be used for a combination of office and meeting space, said Olausen. He spoke in particular of how the main sitting room, with its dark wood paneling, handpainted wall murals depicting hunting scenes and ornate fireplace will make a comfortable and attractive conference area.
The club's large kitchen, which once turned out elegant dinners for hundreds at a time, will be turned into the employees' cafeteria. The club's most unique feature, a four-lane bowling alley in the basement, will be dismantled for use as a laboratory and archival storage area. “So, if anyone wants to buy a bowling alley...” Olausen said, pointing to the still polished lanes and mechanical pin setter. He also joked that while PAL does have an annual bowling event for its employees, “we'll just have to do that elsewhere.”
Some of the renovations will be expensive. The entire building has to have a sprinkler system installed and a small rear staircase in the kitchen must be widened and improved to provide a second means of egress. There is also some asbestos removal and other types of repair work that are involved with a building of that age. Olausen said that some of the renovations will be funded through federal historic tax credits. He said he expects it to be about a year before PAL will be able to move into its new home.
Olausen said that PAL had been looking for a new location for over six years but had never found the right fit. The company needed space for 50 employees, a parking lot, and good highway access since its clients come from throughout the northeast. He said that Herb Weiss, the city' Economic and Cultural Affairs officer, had shown them numerous buildings and had finally persuaded them to look at the TK Club.
Herb Weiss said that the PAL sale “shows how economic development doesn't happen in a day.” He added, “This is a great match where a company that works to preserve history is now working to preserve Pawtucket's history.”