State requires archaeological precautions during Minot Forest Elementary School construction

Jan 3, 2019

Wareham’s new $90 million elementary school project will likely have an archaeologist on hand for some excavation work after school officials learned a human skeleton was found on the property in 1965.

The new school is expected to open in roughly two and half years according to officials. Once complete, Minot Forest and Decas Elementary will be consolidated with up to 1,020 students housed inside the same 159,989-square-foot building. School officials closed Minot Forest last summer.

In November, Wareham voters approved borrowing $40 million via a “debt exclusion” to fund the town’s share. The Massachusetts School Building Authority then OK’d a $50 million grant to fund its portion of the $90 million cost in December.

The problem, Superintendent Dr. Shaver-Hood said, is that the skeleton’s location was never properly documented at the time when it was found during the installation of a water main at Minot Forest Elementary more than 50 years ago.

Shaver-Hood, speaking at the Wareham School Committee’s Jan. 3 meeting, said the Massachusetts Historical Commission is requiring construction workers use precautions near where the skeleton was found. Steps include informing excavators that archaeological artifacts might be found and fencing off the area, which is near where the new water main will connect with the building on Minot Avenue. The commission also required officials to have a plan in place for cataloging any other human remains or artifacts that might be found during construction.

Shaver-Hood said the Historical Commission’s request was expected and will be followed. She said it’s not going to delay the project. 

“We still expect bids to go out in late March,” she said. “We’re moving ahead as planned.”

Project Manager Chad Crittenden, of PMA Consultants, said an initial archaeological survey of the site was completed in June. In the past, arrowheads and other Native American artifacts have been found at the site. The most recent survey, which was performed on the entire site, did not unearth any new discoveries.

“We didn’t find anything at all,” said Crittenden.

Crittenden said despite that officials will have an archaeologist on hand when utility connections are made.

He said the Massachusetts Historical Commission becomes involved with projects in “sensitive areas.” In Wareham’s case, he said it’s unlikely there will be any delays based on the June survey results.

“We don’t anticipate any unique requirements from the Massachusetts Historical Society in the latest report,” said Crittenden.

(Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information for clarity)