CCRI moves to the Knight Estate in Warwick

Royal Webster Knight, great grandson of Robert Knight of the famous B. B. & R. Knight Company and owner of the Pontiac Mill, gave eighty acres of his property in the Natick section of Warwick to the State of Rhode Island for a junior college campus in October 1964. This land, which included his large Federal and Greek Revival home and a number of excellent farm buildings, became the nucleus of the Knight Campus of Rhode Island Junior College (now the Community College of Rhode Island).

A much needed Junior College

An Act of the General Assembly had created the school in 1960 and called for an opening class of 200. When the school opened in 1964, it was housed in makeshift quarters at 199 Promenade Street in the old Brown & Sharpe complex in Providence. According to a special 25th anniversary report of the college, there were so many applications that "Governor John Chafee permitted the expansion of the initial enrollment to 325. By the time the new campus was opened in Warwick in September 1972, the college enrollment was over 3,000. Today, thirty-six years later, the school has an enrollment of over 15,000.

The college megastructutre

Ground breaking for the building of the main building on the Knight campus began in 1969. The site selected was a hilltop with a commanding view of the malls and the highways. The Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission Report K W 1 notes that it was decided to build a structure that would accommodate "all academic, social, and recreational functions under one roof." The result is described by the Commission Report as, "An enormous, flat roofed concrete megastructure with semicircular terminus and twin cylindrical skylight funnels set on a hilltop site and ranging in height from four to six stories."

The report elaborates by saying; "Offices, classrooms, and workshops are gathered around a large, multi story interior courtyard and lecture halls and a library are included in a semi detached cylindrical section separated from the main block by a road passing through the mass of the building." The building was designed by Perkins and Will Partnership of White Plains, New York, in conjunction with the Providence firms of Harkness and Geddes and Robinson Green Beretta. The design was strongly influenced, the report notes, "by the work of the famous modern architect Le Corbusier and has been reviewed extensively by international critics...."

The Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission Report K W 1 concludes by calling it one of the most striking and innovative contemporary structures in the state. It says that due to its location, it is a prominent landmark as it is visible from Interstate Highways I 95 and I 295, as well as from the surrounding area.

A multi-purpose school

In 1978, Edward J. Liston became the second president of Rhode Island Junior College and moved into the home on the former Knight Estate. Under his leadership, courses for college credit were offered at off campus locations and community services offerings were expanded. In 1980, the name of the college was changed to Community College of Rhode Island to "reflect the true meaning of the institution". According to the special 25th anniversary report, the Knight campus has increased from the original eighty acres to two hundred and five acres and includes "a modern field house, track, basketball courts, indoor tennis courts, a modern dance studio and a fully equipped weight room..."

A lasting reminder of times past

The Community College has been successful in maintaining the lovely old house and the farm buildings. The peace and quiet that emanates from the stonewalls and old buildings provides a calm oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of modern traffic and trade. The Knights contributed a great deal to industry and commerce during their time, and in this estate on East Avenue, they managed to preserve a fine reminder that Warwick was once an agricultural community. In preserving a portion of this estate as a residence for its president, the Community College has made a positive contribution to keeping our heritage. The present president of CCRI, Ray M. DiPasquale and his staff are devoted to the task of preserving this wonderful site for future generations to enjoy and to learn from.

One of the accomplishments of the CCRI staff under the leadership of Lynn M. Halmi has been in restoring this 19th century carriage. This is one of the number of accomplishments that is making the “Knight Estate” one of Rhode Island’s most rewarding historical sites.

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