Decas committee questions proposed town building swap

Aug 10, 2022

One day after Town Administrator Derek Sullivan presented a potential shuffling of town services and community programs around Wareham, the Decas School Steering Committee presented him with questions about the proposal Wednesday night.

The Decas committee was initially charged to determine the feasibility of the old school for municipal uses, and members have advocated for turning the building into a community center. Committee members peppered Sullivan with inquiries about his idea during a regularly scheduled committee meeting Wednesday night.

Sullivan’s proposal would see town departments move to the former Decas school. That would include space for general government offices, a finance wing and an area for residents to visit for beach, transfer station and parking stickers. The shift would also see the Council on Aging, a key area of focus for the committee, move to the one-story Decas facility.

What’s now Town Hall would turn into a new police station under Sullivan’s proposal. The Multi-Service Center then would become a community center, potentially renting out space to tenants like the Head Start educational program.

That’s the idea, which Decas committee members both praised and shared concerns over throughout the night’s meeting.

Jody Santagate said she watched the Select Board meeting on Tuesday, and she was impressed with what she heard.

“As the [Council on Aging] clerk, I was very relieved to hear that the seniors would be going to the Decas,” Santagate said. “Just in being a one-story building in itself, relieves a lot of my weekly anxiety.”

Santagate said she thinks the idea is a great proposal, but she noted feelings of loss over the time, money and work that the Decas committee and others have already put into the project. She too mentioned the work of the Public Safety Complex Committee, which for years has analyzed the possibilities of a future space for police and EMS officials.

Other committee members echoed this sentiment.

“The public safety committee’s been working on this for a couple years,” said Charles Klueber, who is a member of both committees. “It worked in the past several studies. And all of a sudden at the 11th hour, out of left field, this proposal popped up.

“It just brings my mind, ‘Has this committee been set up to just waste their time?’”

Sullivan acknowledged the hard work, but he also spoke of not allowing “pride of authorship” to get in the way of pivoting from one direction to another.

“I think that’s one of the biggest problems with government,” Sullivan said. “That, we’ve gone one direction, ‘Well, then we got to continue and finish that out.’”

Other committee members questioned if putting a police station so close to several schools would be safe in lockdown types of situations; if the fields of the former school would remain usable; and if the space needs of town hall would be fulfilled by the Decas building.

Sullivan said he sees police nearby the schools as a deterrent to would-be criminals; that his proposal wouldn’t affect the old school’s fields and playgrounds; and that many town departments, meeting rooms and storage spaces would fit within Decas.

The town administrator’s idea is not yet set in stone — committee members discussed next steps with Sullivan, including a future vote by the Select Board on his idea and, ultimately, a Town Meeting vote on the future of the Decas school.

“What it comes all down to is, what do the most amount of people who go to Town Meeting want?” committee chair Diane Kenney said. “It’s as simple as that.”