Finance, Decas Steering Committees talk ‘nuts and bolts’

The committee advocating for the proposed Decas Community Center met with the Finance Committee on Wednesday in an attempt for the groups to better understand each others’ points of view.

The groups were at odds at the Spring Town Meeting, when the Decas Steering Committee asked for the town to enact their plans for a community center in the old school while the Finance Committee argued that there were still too many unknowns.

The Decas School was vacated in January when the new Wareham Elementary School on Minot Avenue opened.

A group of citizens petitioned Town Meeting in Fall 2021 to pursue the plan to turn the school into a community center. Town Meeting obliged by creating the steering committee and giving the group $ 15,000 to pay for a feasibility study of community-focused uses of the building.

The intention was to give the committee time to come back with research and a completed study to present at this coming fall’s Town Meeting.

Since this spring’s meeting, things seem to be in a holding pattern as Town Administrator Derek Sullivan says he and others are awaiting the results of the feasibility study.

On Wednesday, the two committees had a fairly unstructured discussion. Steering Committee Chair Diane Kenney had planned a presentation, but was unexpectedly unable to attend.

Steering committee clerk Jonathan Dallmeyer asked the Finance Committee to share their concerns. Finance Committee member Jody Smith said he wants to make sure the project makes financial sense for the town, while Chair Bernie Pigeon said that as a business person, he’s concerned about the “nuts and bolts” of the plan.

Dallmeyer pointed out that it’s hard to develop a plan with much certainty without the ability to send out formal requests for proposals for potential tenants.

Finance Committee members David Heard and Norma Scogin suggested that the Steering Committee should look into alternative plans, like selling the school and using some of the proceeds to retrofit another town building. Heard said that to get Town Meeting approval, the Decas group should be able to present all the other options they’ve considered and explain why their plan is the best.

The Finance Committee also had concerns about the condition of the building and what work would need to be done to make it safe for various groups to use. Seniors need accessible bathrooms, while a preschool program would require additional security, Smith said.

Dallmeyer said that as part of the feasibility study the group has commissioned from the Jones Payne Group, architect Nadia Melim is putting together a list of short and longer-term changes that would need to be made. As for security concerns, Melim said that the school is well set-up to be subdivided securely to make space for a preschool program. The wing the preschool would be using was built as an addition with one internal door connecting it to the rest of the building.

Melim explained the wing has its own bathrooms, gym and two exits to the outdoors – and Head Start, the potential tenant, has said it could easily get grant funds to pay for needed security upgrades like security cameras and card-readers to unlock doors.

The committees also discussed some shared concerns: rising utility prices, the prospect of a recession and the difficulty of having enough parking for field use and use of the school.

“I think we’re all working toward the same goal,” Pigeon said, noting that the Decas School isn’t the only possible site for a community center.

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