Onset Beach Bathhouse renovations get OK from Town Meeting

Apr 26, 2016

Town Meeting Monday awarded $215,000 in Community Preservation funds to restore the exterior of the Onset Bathhouse, part of a multi-million dollar Buzzards Bay Coalition project that will include turning the building into a boating center, “not for the kids who have access to the yacht clubs, but for everybody else.”

It’s the second time Town Meeting awarded Community Preservation funds for the project, which included the approval of $400,000 in October that the Coalition used to purchase and preserve Wickets Island in Onset Bay.

Voters approved the funds after hearing from Coalition President Mark Rasmussen who said the money will be used to “create a program not for the kids who have access to the yacht clubs, but for everybody else.”

Community Preservation Committee funds will pay for a portion of the Coalition’s ambitious project to provide a place for the community to learn about and engage with the bay.

Rasmussen told Town Meeting that his organization will privately raise the rest of the money needed for the renovation, an estimated $2.1 million.

“This is the future we’re looking for, it will bring new vitality to Onset and Wareham,” said Finance Committee Chair David Heard.

The town-owned bathhouse will be renamed the Onset Bay Discovery Center. The Coalition will store boats there and offer educational programs in the building that currently houses the Nemasket Kayak Center in the summer.

Long in disrepair, commercial activity in the bathouse returned in 2013 when Roy Edwards opened the Nemasket Kayak Center.

Since then, the center has loaned out kayaks in the summer for visitors to paddle around the calm waters of Onset Bay.

Edwards opened the Nemasket Kayak Center in Middleboro in 2011. As a kid, he spent summers exploring Onset Bay and saw an opportunity to bring some life back to the bathouse. He approached the town about renting space there and received approval.

Last year, Town Meeting awarded $400,000 in Community Preservation funds to the Coalition to purchase the 4.6-acre Wickets Island.

Rasmussen said both purchases help the Coalition further its mission of environmental education.

“This will dramatically improve the ability of Wareham kids and their families to get out and enjoy the bay,” Rasmussen said.

Before approving the $215,000, voters also OK’d a 99-year lease agreement between the town and the Coalition, but not before questioning the lease.

Resident Margaret Ishihara asked for specifics on the terms of the lease.

Selectman Peter Teitelbaum said the terms are still being worked out and that it wouldn’t be wise for board members to “tip our hand.”

“We’re not going to negotiate in public,” he said, adding that the board will aim for the best possible deal.