$350,000 state grant helps push Onset Bathhouse project forward

Feb 14, 2018

A $5.3 million fundraising campaign to transform the Onset Bathhouse into a coastal learning center has received a $350,000 boost from the state.

The Buzzards Bay Coalition and the Town of Wareham recently received the funds, in the form of a grant from the state's Seaport Economic Council. The council helps coastal communities develop and improve assets to leverage economic growth. With the addition of the grant, the coalition has raised $3.32 million and is actively seeking private funds.

The project calls for turning the Onset Bathhouse into the Onset Bay Center. Located next to Onset Pier, Onset Beach and nearby Wickets Island, the proposed center would provide on-the-water exploration programming for thousands of people every year, officials said. The center would also help people of all ages build a connection with Buzzards Bay through sailing, paddling, shellfishing and other activities.

The coalition is working with the town to rehabilitate the bathhouse to serve as a headquarters, community learning center and boat storage facility for the center. The coalition plans to transform the 19th century bathhouse into a 21st century facility that both honors its original intent while actively providing additional educational and community services, officials said.

“As part public yacht club, part coastal ecology school, part rowing boathouse, and part community center, the Onset Bay Center will be a new gateway to the wonders of our local environment,” said coalition President Mark Rasmussen.

In 2016, the coalition protected Wickets Island and Burgess Point, which will be the core destinations for the center’s on-the-water programming. Last June, the Selectmen officially greenlighted the coalition’s plans to create the Onset Bay Center by signing over a 99-year lease of the bathhouse.

The rehabilitated bathhouse will offer space and resources for programs, meetings, administration, daily gatherings and storage for boats and equipment.

Bathhouse restoration will include reconstruction and expansion of the original second level to serve as a classroom and gathering space. The renovated Onset Bathhouse is expected to open in time for summer 2019.

The coalition is currently working to raise the funds to make the Onset Bay Center vision a reality. Less than 30 percent of those funds will come from local, state and federal government sources such as the Seaport Economic Council, coalition officials said. The majority of funding will come from private donors and foundations.