HARWICH — Emergency repairs have been made to the roof of the historic West Harwich Schoolhouse, which has been vacant for more than two decades, during which the town has wrestled with what to do with the 1871 building.
Selectmen Chairman Larry Ballantine said he received an email from former selectman Peter Hughes who had been at the former schoolhouse and noticed holes in the roof. Hughes recommended the town look at it right away, said Ballantine. He passed the information along to Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers, who had the maintenance department look at it.
Sean Libby, director of the town’s maintenance department, said the West Harwich schoolhouse has been on the town’s capital plan for repairs for the past three years, but it keeps getting taken off the final plan. Libby said he had noticed the damage to the roof in August.
“The roof is way beyond its life span,” Libby told The Chronicle on Monday.
The town has been dragging its feet on what to do with the building for more than 20 years. The structure has not been used during that time. The roof was leaking and parts of the ceiling have fallen in, Libby said; there was continuing water damage and mold inside the building.
Members of his staff conducted repairs on the open sections of the roof last week. Libby said his staff added a rubber membrane and new plywood to deteriorated sections. He estimated about 36 square feet of the roof was repaired.
“It’s a very temporary patch,” Libby said. “To re-shingle it would cost a lot of money. More than is sought in the capital plan.”
Powers told selectmen last week that he found a town meeting vote in 2017 that prohibited demolition of the building. The vote passed 109-70, he said.
Ballantine said a neighborhood group has expressed interest in the building, and there may be a private group interested in purchasing it. He said it would be nice to have someone purchase it and retain the historic exterior of the building.
“I’ve been told there is a group out there with some intent,” he said. “If there is someone out there who wants to buy it and take it off the shelf, I’d be for that.”
Powers said the town would have to issue a request for proposals to sell the building.
“We’ve kicked this can down the road and it’s gone out for a request for proposals before,” Selectman Michael MacAskill said. He requested that the matter be placed on the board’s agenda once again.
There has been a lot of interest in historic preservation along Route 28 in West Harwich in recent years. The Captains’ Row group of neighbors has focused on retaining the historic character of the village. West Harwich was one of the earliest areas of the town to be settled, and sea captains were drawn to the area, many of them building beautiful and ornate homes. The Captains' Row group has set out to preserve the historic buildings and the character of the village.
While the schoolhouse is not right on the Route 28 stretch of Roadway, it is quite visible from the road. Duncan Berry, one of the founders of the Captains’ Row group, has referred to the historic schoolhouse as the “apex” of the character of the village.
There has been some interest in the historic structure in recent years. In 2016, selectmen put out a request for information seeking interest in proposals for use of the schoolhouse. West Harwich resident Lou Urbano responded with a proposal to use the building as a museum and boat-building center. The proposal won the support of the community preservation committee, which recommended $203,500 in Community Preservation Act funds be approved for interior and exterior repairs to the structure. But voters in the annual town meeting rejected that funding by a 135-141 vote. Little attention has been given to the building since then.