For The Plastics Group of America President Robert A. Lebeaux, the mill project he’s been absorbed in is more than an expansion of his company: It is a renovation, a restoration and the resurrection of a piece of history.
In May, Lebeaux announced his intention to purchase the Jules Desurmont Worsted Mill, a historic building located at 84 Fairmount St. in Woonsocket. Since taking official ownership in July, he and a staff of about 30 workers – both outside contractors and company personnel – have toiled to get the facility ready for use.
“They were looking for additional production and storage space,” said spokesperson Gregory A. Czarnowski, of Cz Marketing & Advertising in Weston, Mass. “They saw the mill, which was in some disarray and disrepair. They spoke to city officials who said it was in the process of being put up for auction, so they eventually purchased it.”
Czarnowski said sections of the building have a new concrete floor and a new loading dock has been installed. The company is in the process of moving in storage trailers and landscaping has started. One building on-site is being restored as well, and will be offered to rent for local businesses. The company’s goal is to occupy a portion of the large building by December.
As to be expected from an old mill, it hasn’t been easy. The 6.4-acre property sat abandoned for six long years, and the property’s exterior accumulated trash, brush, defunct fencing and a variety of scrap.
On the inside the same type of cleaning was required prior to any renovations. An assortment of hardware and fixtures are still needed and new windows are being added from top to bottom; the roof has also required substantial repairs. “Before we got here the place was totally ransacked of every inch of copper. The second floor was used as a bicycle ramp up until the day we moved,” he said. “Windows were broken and evidence of small fires were left behind, but now the building has been secured,” he said.
The fire-alarm system is one-third completed, sprinkler lines are being converted to a dry system and the installation of power is imminent.
Another improvement is the removal of roof drainage. Like many old mills, roof drainage downspouts are made out of iron and located inside the building, are old and are leaking. A new system puts the downspouts where they belong, on the outside of the building. He estimates that 280 windows – 80 percent of the total, have been covered with new plywood and will be vinyl-sided for appearance and warmth. “It is not going to be easy to heat the entire square footage of this building,” he said. The job will take about two weeks to complete.
Yet there are still more details that raise concern. Lebeaux does not desire to gamble on the condition of the 100-year-old water pipes from the city system; they will be disconnected and new ones installed. It is Lebeaux’s wish to restore the mill to working condition.
Built in 1907, the mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007; the classification, however, has not impeded the restoration. “When this was planned I was advised not to accept any historic tax credits,” he said, “so that helped.”
With the purchase, TPG adds 240,000 square feet of space to its operation. Their central office will remain at 1112 River St. in Woonsocket, a 65,000-square-foot facility on 5 acres, less than one-half mile from the mill. The company will occupy the first two levels, a total of almost 100,000 square feet.
“We plan on bringing some of our operations to the mill and once we get running we plan to do some listings to attract some new tenants to occupy the second, third and fourth floors. There are a couple of conveyors in the building, but we have also considered using the second floor for our own operations,” he said.
Lebeaux has built the company into a plastics supplier of global proportions, with some of TPG’s product shipped to Europe. The company also has a solid West Coast connection, with multiple trucks shipped to California by rail, a method that allows them to remain price-competitive.
“We think we’ll be able to add at least 10 more employees to our manufacturing and warehouse,” he said. •