A look back at 2021 in Wareham
This year was one of change and growth for Wareham, as people weighed in on issues of town governance and new buildings opened amidst the ongoing covid-19 pandemic. Here’s a look back at some of the year’s biggest stories.
Wareham citizens demonstrated their investment in the town through record turnout at one of the year’s Town Meetings — and plenty of participation at meetings throughout the year.
Nearly 1,000 voters showed up to the April 10 Town Meeting at Spillane Field to decide whether or not a large section of Wareham should be rezoned as a “hospitality district.” The effort to rezone the land was led by the Notos Group — a family-run development company that initially pitched a slot parlor and racetrack before withdrawing those plans.
Wareham residents rallied in opposition, citing concerns about environmental impacts and the stress on town infrastructure, like the aging Glen Charlie Road. Above all, citizens seemed not to trust the
Notos Group’s claim that they did not know what would be built on the land, and thought that large-scale commercial development could be detrimental to the town’s culture.
The measure was voted down, with a staggering final count of 813 “no” votes to just 141 “yes” votes.
Environmentally-minded citizens have also been engaged throughout the year in opposition to a number of proposed solar fields that require clear-cutting land. Activist voices have been a mainstay at board meetings throughout the year.
In the spring, Town Meeting passed a solar bylaw that would dramatically restrict what kind of solar development is possible in town. (That bylaw is still awaiting approval by the Attorney General.)
The pandemic continued this year, with 2,187 Wareham residents testing positive for covid since this January.
First responders were among the first to get vaccinated for the virus in January. In February, Southcoast Health opened a vaccine clinic at the Gleason Family YMCA which vaccinated more than 400 seniors during its first day of operations.
Throughout the spring, students saw their time in school expand. In the fall, kids returned to learn full-time in-person.
This year, the town saw the completion of a new Onset Fire Station and a new Wareham Elementary School, which will welcome students in January.
The Wareham Elementary School has been in the works for years, with the town voting for a debt exclusion to fund the new school in fall 2018.
After a groundbreaking in 2020, construction continued apace throughout the pandemic. Workers are currently putting the finishing touches in place while teachers unpack their books and classroom supplies. Students will return from their holiday break to the new school on Jan. 3.
Built to educate students in pre-K through fourth grade, the large school is designed so each grade has its own wing. In the center are shared spaces, like the gym, cafetorium and Innovation Hub.
“This is probably the most technologically-advanced elementary school in the state,” said School Committee member Geoff Swett. The school’s tech includes 86-inch touch-screen computers in all the classrooms, which can be raised and lowered for access by even the smallest students. Students will have access to a television studio. And the cafetorium will be fitted with a high-quality projector.
The new elementary school will end up costing taxpayers less than half of what was originally estimated in 2018: only 38 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value, rather than 82 cents. That amount will be billed annually until the town’s debt is paid off.
The ground was broken for the new Onset Fire Station in March of 2020, and firefighters moved in during September 2021.
Located on Sand Pond Road behind the old Salvation Army, the station is less central than its predecessor.
“We want people to know that just because we’re moving from the center of the village, that we still want to be part of the heart of the community,” said Onset Fire Chief Jeffrey Osswald.
But it has a boatload of new safety features. The living and training space at the new station is separate from the apparatus bay and the locker room for gear. Osswald said there is a great ventilation system in the living quarters and there are scrubbers in the apparatus bay to clean the air.
Throughout the year, crews have been hard at work building the expanded Emergency Room at Tobey Hospital. In May, community members and officials signed the last beam to be put in place. By December, the exterior of the building had come together, with gleaming windows reflecting the sky over the Narrows.
Jeffrey Osswald was sworn in as Fire Chief in August of this year, having served with the department for more than 30 years. Osswald is an Onset resident who was named deputy chief in 2003 and became an accredited fire chief in September 2016.
The Wareham Police Department also gained a new chief this year. Walter Correia was appointed chief in April following 17 years of service in Wareham.
New access to nature
The Buzzards Bay Coalition completed two major projects in Wareham in 2021: The new Onset Bay Center and the nature preserve at Horseshoe Mill.
The Onset Bay Center — the reconstructed former bathhouse — is the launch point for many programs open to people of all ages. The center hosts programs including summer and after-school programming for kids, family sailing events, and classes and outings for adults.
The Weweantic River Reserve at Horseshoe Mill — located at the end of Station Street, past the Decas School — is now open, with walking trails and two kayak launches. The coalition purchased the property in 2012, and has since removed the derelict dam, allowing the river to return to its natural course and fish to once again safely spawn in its waters.
After months of preparations, the town’s curbside trash pickup services began April 1, and Wareham has been running the transfer station since January.
The Boys and Girls Club closed abruptly in June, leaving officials scrambling to fill the gap in available childcare.
Lucky the coyote, a skinny, mangy animal spotted by many concerned residents eating fallen apples outside the Decas School, was gently caught by the Department of Natural Resources and brought to the Cape Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Six months later, the coyote was released — happy and healthy and free to roam.