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The Steel Yard, Reuse & Neighborhood Revitalization Award, Providence Steel & Iron Company, 27 Sims Avenue

In 2001, two men in their early twenties did something they probably shouldn’t have: they purchased a 3-acre, century-old, failing steel fabrication facility in the heart of Providence’s ‘Industrial Valley.’ Providence Steel and Iron’s (PSI) selling points included early 20th century industrial buildings and equipped shop space as well as extensive deferred maintenance and lead-contaminated soils that labeled the site as a brownfield. But these young artists were convinced that Rhode Island’s long history of industrial arts design and metalworking could be re-imagined and harnessed for social good and they wanted to do it in the heart of where that tradition all began. It was a long shot, a gamble, and an audacious act of faith.

Today PSI’s former ornamental shop serves as workspace for free and subsidized industrial arts classes in light metals, blacksmithing, welding, and the glass and ceramic arts as well as jobs training and workforce development in design and welding fabrication.

Late in 2010, the Steel Yard successfully completed a multi-year, 1.2 million dollar brownfield cleanup. What was once 2 acres of unusable space is now a de facto public park, home to over one hundred trees and a half acre of green space and storm water-managing wetland plants. As a result of this undertaking, the Yard is poised to increase public access four fold in 2011.

The site designers, Klopfer Martin Design Group (KMDG) provided extraordinary leadership and vision as the Steel Yard tried to marry innovation with a tight (even inadequate) project budget. The final project both met the preservation standards required of our National Historic Register site and managed to lead by example in its innovative design for passive, on-site storm water management.