Minot Forest school building study spurs thoughts  on future

Oct 12, 2017

Imagine a new space for seniors, the addition of a community center or using Decas Elementary School land for a commuter rail stop. All are possibilities as officials begin deciding the fate of Minot Forest Elementary School.

“Everything is on the table at this point,” said Wareham Public Schools Business Manager Michael MacMillan.

The 51-year-old school has many problems, including outdated electrical wiring and fire safety measures and a lack of space. Many windows, floors, ceilings, boilers and an elevator need replacing.

Voters at April Town Meeting approved the borrowing of $1 million to fund a feasibility study. That will explore different options for revamping the school. The study is a requirement of the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which will reimburse the town 70 percent of the project’s construction cost. In February, the authority announced that Minot Forest was approved to launch the study.

MacMillan said a project manager, who is required by the state to oversee the project from start to finish, was chosen. The committee is now searching for an architectural firm for the redesign.

Following that, committee members will seek the community’s input on the project. MacMillan said there’s a chance that at least 15 different plans will be developed.

“It’s going to be a comprehensive study that looks at all the options so that we make the right decision as a community,” said MacMillan.

Once completed, the study will go to the Massachusetts School Building Authority for a decision. The state agency has the final say on the project’s design. Paying for Wareham’s portion of the project is a decision that must go back to Town Meeting where voters will decide if it will be funded. In 2012, despite Town Meeting approval, voters defeated a ballot measure that would have funded a $575,000 feasibility study for Minot Forest through a debt exclusion, which would have raised taxes.

Some options include renovating the school or tearing it down and building a new one. That option would combine Minot with its 500 students and Decas with its 600 students at two, connected buildings in one, yet-to-be-determined location.

The committee will schedule workshops in which residents may share their ideas. No dates have been announced yet. MacMillan said plans call for finishing the study early next year.

A rebuild opens up a variety of possibilities for the whole town, according to Selectman Alan Slavin, who believes Minot Forest should be demolished.

“This is a big change for the town,” said Slavin. “Minot Forest itself needs to be torn down. It doesn’t work, and I’m almost sure the state will say it needs to be rebuilt.”

For Slavin, building two new schools connected by an enclosed walkway is the most efficient option. That way one gymnasium, cafeteria and administrative suite is required. He said using land on Viking Drive for the project is one option.

Slavin noted that would free Decas School to become a community center, complete with space for a Council on Aging, Boys & Girls Club programs and more.

Creating space for the Council on Aging is important for Wareham, said Slavin, which has a senior population of 8,000, but only has one room in the Multi-Service Center for services.

“Most towns have some kind of senior center. We don’t have a real community area for our older residents,” he said. “Everyone is living longer and the transportation we have is marginal, housing is difficult to find.”

Slavin is thinking bigger, too. Decas School is in a prime location for a commuter rail stop, he said.

“There’s enough space for parking for between 600 and 1,000 cars there and it’s right off the highway,” he said.

Currently, the state is exploring options for extending commuter rail service to New Bedford and Fall River. State and local officials are hopeful that might spell a stop in Wareham. However, a final decision is years away.

“I would hope to see that happen it makes the most sense from a financial standpoint,” said Slavin, referring to how a commuter stop would benefit the town’s economy. “Again, there’s no guarantee on anything.”