HARWICH — Selectmen have instructed Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers to prepare the necessary paperwork to lease or sell the West Harwich schoolhouse and the former fire station and surrounding property on Bank Street.
There have been numerous discussions and votes relative to the properties in recent years, some of which restrict what actions the board can take.
Powers informed selectmen last week his research on the historic West Harwich schoolhouse, constructed in 1871, shows that in 2006 town meeting transferred custody of the schoolhouse and its two-third of an acre parcel to selectmen and extended the board’s authority to lease the facility long term. In 2008, town meeting approved the leasing of the property for not more than 99 years.
“I know there is interest in someone acquiring the property, but the board of selectmen does not have permission for the sale,” Powers said. He asked selectmen last week if they wanted him to draft a town meeting article to obtain the authority for the sale of the building.
A town meeting vote in 2016 seeking to demolish the schoolhouse was voted down, said Selectman Ed McManus. “The voters made sure the building is preserved as part of our architectural heritage,” he said.
Both Powers and Selectmen chairman Larry Ballantine said they understood that there is a group interested in purchasing the property and preserving it. The sale would be a way of cleaning the property off town books, Ballantine said. The building, assessed at $145,600, has not had an ongoing use for close to 25 years. Yet the town has paid for periodic maintenance work, most recently emergency roof repairs to keep rain at bay. The town considered selling it for housing, but a chemical plume flowing beneath the property put an end to that project.
There has been strong neighborhood support for preserving Captains’ Row, the more than two dozen historic homes built along Route 28 in West Harwich. Town meeting approved a West Harwich Special District zoning bylaw in September providing additional protection. While the schoolhouse is not in the district, backers of the special district have emphasized their support for preserving the historic schoolhouse.
Selectman Stephen Ford said he was contacted by members of the Captain's Row organization about preserving the structure. He suggested they be contacted about leasing the property.
“I’d support selling it and getting it back on the tax rolls, getting money for the town,” Selectman Michael MacAskill said. “We’ve been talking about it for a long time. I think it’s time the town is done with that property. I say sell it.”
Board members discussed the need to adhere to state procurement provisions, which includes an open public bid process for the purchase or lease of the building. Selectmen approved a motion to have Powers develop a town meeting article that would give selectmen the authority to lease or sell the property.
Bank Street Fire Station
Powers was also directed by selectmen to draft a request for proposals for the sale of the former fire station building and four lots at 203 Bank St. Powers said the town meeting article authorizing the sale of the properties stipulate proceeds from the sale of the former fire station, which was more recently used as the harbor department’s workshop, are to be used to offset the capital costs associated with the construction of the new harbor department workshop at Saquatucket Harbor.
There was much discussion in the 2017 annual town meeting about selling the land for conservation purposes. A 2019 capital outlay application relating to the sale of the property identified sale of the land to a conservation entity, but there is no language in town meeting actions that direct the sale of the land to a conservation entity, Powers said.
Howell said commitments such as these should only be made in writing. Town meeting has authorized the board to sell the property, said MacAskill, and the board can state its preference to sell it for conservation purposes. Given the Harwich Conservation Trust's large holdings abutting to the south side of the lots, which also have wetland areas, discussions have involved a potential sale to HCT.
Selectmen voted to have Powers develop an RFP for the sale of the town property at 203 Bank St., with a preference for conservation use. MacAskill said the town does not have to take the highest price, but can take a lower offer if it provides more benefits to the town.