Construction Now Under Way At Former West Harwich Schoolhouse

by William F. Galvin
Construction work has begun at the former West Harwich schoolhouse now owned by John Carey. The plan is to create seven apartments in the historic structure. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO Construction work has begun at the former West Harwich schoolhouse now owned by John Carey. The plan is to create seven apartments in the historic structure. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH – It’s been a couple of years in the planning stage, but the former West Harwich Schoolhouse is finally getting a facelift.

The historic structure, built in 1871, will be converted into seven apartments, and work began this week.

“Not much has changed,” developer John Carey said of the project, “except for interest rates and building costs that have doubled, but not the rents.”

Carey said he had to wait for interest rates to stabilize before beginning the project. Work is now underway to lift the building to for a new foundation and the addition of a basement. That process has been pretty wild, said Carey, pointing to the number of tree stumps discovered beneath the structure.

“They just came in and clear cut the land and built the building over them,” said Carey. There were leaves from the 1870s, roots and even animal holes beneath the structure, he said.

Carey bought the former schoolhouse from the town with a winning bid of $175,000 two years ago.

The plan approved by the planning board calls for seven one-bedroom apartments in the historic structure. Two of the apartments will be located in the newly created basement; the building will be raised about one foot to accommodate the basement, Carey said.

Carey has committed to keeping the historic characteristics of the structure. There will be a few changes in the windows on the east and west gables to accommodate the apartments on the third floor, and a dormer will be added to the north side roof. He also plans to place solar panels on the southside roof, but not immediately.

A second building has been approved to the east of the former schoolhouse to accommodate three more apartments. Carey said there will be two one-bedroom units and a two-bedroom apartment. The new building will resemble the schoolhouse, he said; white with a lot of trim.

Kline Construction and House Lifting of Harwich is in the process of lifting the building. Carey said he is making an effort to use local contractors whenever possible.

The initial plan was to renovate the historic structure and then build the three-apartment building as a second phase, but Carey said there will only be a couple of months lag once the schoolhouse is finished before work begins on the new structure.

“It’s too expensive to go slow, so we’re going to move quickly,” Carey said.

Carey said the plan is to have the former schoolhouse completed by next spring and the new building shortly thereafter.

Planning Board Chair Duncan Berry, who has been active in preserving historic structures in West Harwich, has called the Carey project “a trifecta” because it adds to the town’s housing stock, is a capital investment in the village, and preserves the historic structure.

There is a second historic preservation and housing project under consideration for the West Harwich Baptist Church, which was built in 1880. The town is serving as an intermediary on the sale of the property, using eminent domain as a means of clearing the property title. The property is owned by First Baptist Church Society.

The town put the property out to bid last August and received only one offer from The Davenport Companies for $400,000. But the transfer of the property has stalled, and to date there has been no transfer of property recorded in the Barnstable County Registry of Deeds.