By Scott Mitchell Johnson
BRIDGEWATER – Residents will decide at a special town meeting tonight whether the town should demolish the former Bridgewater Grammar School building.
The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22 at the Bridgewater Civic Building, located at 399 Main Road.
“The school closed June 30, 2009,” said Town Manager Amanda Dow. “This is the second year that the students have been tuitioned to Mars Hill, so that’s what really triggered all this.
“The town was then faced with, ‘OK, what do we do with this building? We have a firehouse, civic building, town office, town garage and now we have a school building.’ We also determined we need a place for the rec department to be able to hold their meetings and activities,” she said. “The board of selectmen asked that we form a building/planning committee that was established this January. They wanted the committee to look at what are we going to do with these buildings and if there was a use for the old grammar school; should we put some money into it and renovate it to make it a rec or community center or are there other options out there that may benefit the town even more?”
The committee looked at all the town’s buildings – primarily the former school – and determined that the building is laid out “pretty poorly.”
“It’s not ADA compliant; you walk in from the first level and you’ve got bathrooms to the right and left. Then you either need to go upstairs to reach a possible meeting room which was used as classrooms, or you go downstairs to the gym,” said Dow. “It’s really laid out in a manner where it’s going to be hard to renovate it to make it a useable building for the town.”
Through various meetings and feedback, the building/planning committee determined early on that the town’s greatest need is a community center.
“We need a place where we can hold town meetings and public gatherings such as family reunions and dinners. We don’t have one good building to do all those things,” Dow said. “We’ve been using the civic building as our community center, and we’ve temporarily put the rec department down at the civic building which has worked OK, but the civic building isn’t big enough for both. We’re really trying to find the best option for the town – and in doing so – we’ve determined that the schoolhouse doesn’t have much value to the town in the form that it’s in. At tonight’s meeting we’re looking to get some direction as to what the town wants.
“We recognize there is some sentimental value and there’s quite a few people that would hate to see the building go,” she said, “but we’ve got to do something. In the brief time that we did heat the building last year it cost about $100 a day, so there’s a big expense involved. The board voted in December to no longer heat the building.”
Residents will decide whether to leave the building standing or demolish it. Should they vote to demolish and bury the building on site, it would cost $9,800. Demolishing and hauling the building away and filling the hole with gravel would cost $32,670.
Dow said the committee said the 11 School St. property might be a good spot for a building in the future.
“It’s not costing anything to leave it where it’s at, but eventually it could possibly be a liability to the town,” she said. “I encourage people to attend the meeting and make their wishes known.”
In the meantime, Dow said the town is “diligently seeking grant funding” to help with a future community center.
The Bridgewater Grammar School building was constructed in the mid-1940s as a replacement to the high school, which burned down. The school was turned over to the town July 1, 2009. Residents voted in November 2008 by a vote of 232-108 to close the school as a cost-saving measure.
By Scott Mitchell Johnson