Town Officials Not Satisfied With Historic Schoolhouse Bid

By: William F. Galvin

Tthe historic West Harwich Schoolhouse. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH – Town officials are not happy with the single bid received for the sale of the historic West Harwich Schoolhouse.

The bid was submitted by the nonprofit Historic West Harwich Schoolhouse group based in West Harwich and proposes the purchase of the property for $1 for use as a community learning center.

Selectmen Chair Michael MacAskill said he hoped the board and Town Administrator Joseph Powers would reject the bid. As chief procurement officer, Powers said, he will be examining the bid and making a recommendation to selectmen.

The town has a fiduciary responsibility and that does not meet it,” Powers said of the bid. “I’m leaning toward that.” MacAskill said the bid will be on the agenda of the selectmen's Monday meeting for further discussion. 

Our mission is to rehabilitate the historic building and put it to use as an inclusive place for lifelong community learning,” said Sally Urbano, president of the non-profit. “This non-profit organization seeks ownership of the schoolhouse in order to preserve the building, maintain it and put it back to active use for the residents. Through ownership, all financial responsibility is assumed by the LLC. This schoolhouse project is solely for the benefit of the town of Harwich.”

MacAskill said he has talked with several realtors and contractors and believes the building's use as a housing project will do a lot more for the town than the education center the West Harwich group is proposing. He said he realizes the town would have to maintain the historic facade of the schoolhouse, built in 1871.

According to the proposal, programs will be developed at the facility for residents of all ages. The mission of the learning center is to provide skilled-based demonstrations, lectures, and adjunct school programs to serve the needs of different types of learners across their lifespan. The programming will be augmented by including active input from the residents and local schools, according to the proposal.

We see beauty worth preserving in the schoolhouse’s simplistic and symmetrical design. The 150 year old schoolhouse offers little by way of technical challenge in preservation, and staying within the original design will maintain its innate charm,” Urbano said. 

In restoring the schoolhouse, the group proposes, all local, state and federal regulations will be met, including the Secretary of the Interior’s guidelines for historic preservation, which guide the project submission for National Register of Historic Places status. In meeting the requirements, the group will rely upon experienced individuals with knowledge of construction and historic preservation, which will allow the non-profit group to concentrate on fundraising.

The project is envisioned to be conducted in multiple phases. The initial phase will be to secure the building. An additional three phases include raising $350,000 prior to beginning exterior work; completing exterior work before beginning the interior work; and finishing the internal project and completing landscaping.

Lou Urbano, a director of the organization, said the project has to be adaptive and the group will be looking for views from townspeople on programs that are now not being provided but are needed.  

 The proposal refers to the engineering study conducted in 2008 by A.M.Fogarty, identifying structural deficiencies and detailed work required for reuse of the building as costing between $800 and $1,000. The assessment will need to be updated, Sally Urbano said. The group also plans to solicit time, material, and expertise donations and contributions to mitigate costs.

We understand the town will not spend the allotted $50,000 to install a new roof. Seed capital of $20,000 has been raised within the non-profit group. Should our proposal be accepted, funding efforts will move forward through private and public financing,” she said.    

The proposal points out Historic Funding.Com has identified 7,000 funding sources for historic structures, and the non-profit plans to seek grants.  Among the grant sources the proposal mentions are Massachusetts Historical Commission matching grants; Massachusetts Cultural Council grants for resource rooms for local history and educational programs; and Preservation Massachusetts grants for historic buildings.  

There are also grants provided for historic preservation through the National Park Service, and more opportunities will open up with a National Register designation, Sally Urbano said. Community Preservation Act funds could also be available for the project.

Our group is passionate about Harwich and sees the restored schoolhouse as a contributor to the village atmosphere that defines our character as a town,” she said. “For buildings and programs to survive they must remain relevant to the community. Therefore we will be sensitive in the rehabilitation efforts so that future use can easily be adapted. The historically restored and active learning center can bring an added energy to Harwich and provide another avenue for quality of life.”