Town plans to ask for public input on future of Decas School property

Mar 23, 2021

Because there are many possible futures for the John W. Decas Elementary School property, the Board of Selectmen plans to ask people in town what they think.

Selectman Peter Teitelbaum explained that Wareham Redevelopment Authority member Richard Swenson is creating an online questionnaire that will gather input from members of the public regarding how to reuse the Decas School property. 

Once collected, the results of the questionnaire would be brought before the Board of Selectmen. The board members seemed receptive to the idea overall.

“I think the idea of putting it out for some input by the residents of the town is a great idea,” Selectmen Jim Munise said. 

Selectman Judith Whiteside emphasized how important citizen input would be for the Decas redevelopment. 

“It is a big project. It’s a centrally located project,” she said. “And because it has been a building very important to the town for over 50 years, we need to make sure we are getting the best ideas for the reuse of the building.” 

Whiteside also thanked Swenson for volunteering to put together the online questionnaire. It is unclear when the online questionnaire will be made available. 

Town officials have been evaluating what to do with the Decas property for months. 

At one point, the officials were considering the location as a potential site for the new public safety complex. 

Officials from the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD) and the Wareham Redevelopment Authority see strong economic potential, based on conversations at previous Wareham Redevelopment Authority meetings.

According to a study compiled by SRPEDD, in an ideal scenario, the redeveloped Decas property would be for “high-intensity lab/flex use.” Flex space is space that isn’t limited to simply manufacturing or office use, but can also be used for scientific purposes such as research and development.

A 170,000 square foot high-intensity lab/flex use space would result in an estimated $219,000 annual tax revenue for Wareham and bring approximately 270 jobs. Currently, the Decas property — 15.5 acres of land along with a 70,000 square foot building — has an $8.6 million valuation, according to the SRPEDD report. The report identified only one potential constraint to redevelopment: The building’s minor asbestos liability would increase demolition costs by an estimated two to three times normal costs.

The construction of the new elementary school on Minot Avenue is set to be completed in January 2022, leaving the Decas School empty. At that time, the school district will likely transfer ownership of the Decas School to the Board of Selectmen. 

The board could then choose to give the Redevelopment Authority ownership of the property or use it for other purposes.