Wareham, Buzzards Bay Coalition sign lease paving way for $5 million discovery center

By Matthew Bernat | Jun 12, 2017
Photo by: Matthew Bernat State and town officials praise the Buzzards Bay Coalition's plan to build the Onset Bay Discovery Center. On Monday, the town and coalition inked a lease agreement. From left: State Rep. Susan Williams Gifford, Selectmen Chair Peter Teitelbaum, Selectman Judith Whiteside, State Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton), Selectman Alan Slavin and Buzzards Bay Coalition President Mark Rasmussen.

Selectmen signed a one-year lease agreement on Monday with the Buzzards Bay Coalition, which will allow the nonprofit to transform a ramshackle Onset Bathhouse into a hub of marine recreation and education – open to all.

There’s some more work to be done; however, as a planned 99-year lease between the town and the coalition still requires Beacon Hill approval, due to a 102-year-old State Judicial Court decision.

In the meantime, coalition officials announced a new youth sailing program at Onset Beach this summer, providing a small glimpse of their ambitious hopes for the what will become the Onset Bay Discovery Center.

Plans call for a $5 million renovation of the bathhouse. When finished, it will serve as headquarters for a year-round, full-time staff dedicated to facilitating a myriad of water programs, designed to get kids exploring and falling in love with Buzzards Bay. Currently, the coalition has raised $2 million. Officials noted that an aggressive fundraising campaign is in the works.

Selectmen signed the lease at a special meeting, held on the bluffs overlooking the bathhouse. Selectmen Chair Peter Teitelbaum, Selectmen Alan Slavin and Judith Whiteside as well as Town Administrator Derek Sullivan, Buzzards Bay Coalition President Mark Rasmussen, State Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton) and State Rep. Susan Williams Gifford (R-Wareham) attended.

Slavin recalled the moment two years ago when Rasmussen approached him with the idea, saying he enthusiastically took up the cause after hearing the pitch.

Modeled on the Duxbury Bay Maritime School, the center aims to engage thousands of people of all ages in a variety of activities, including sailing, paddling, shellfishing, and shoreline ecology exploration.

For Slavin, he said the center’s inclusive nature is a major benefit.

“It’s doesn’t matter what your race is. It doesn’t matter what your economic status is,” said Slavin. “This will be open to everyone.”

As part of the lease deal, the town will have dedicated office space in the Onset Bay Discovery Center. Teitelbaum said local leaders are exploring options for what exactly the space will be used for, but haven’t settled on anything yet.

Pacheco and Gifford praised the project. At the state level, both are working to ensure that necessary legal maneuvers are completed for the 99-year-lease agreement, which requires a special act of the legislature.

While the town manages the parks and beaches it does not own the land, the formerly defunct Onset Bay Grove Association does. The company, which was founded in 1887 and dissolved in 1975, originally developed Onset Village. With the support of David and Skip Warr, the grandsons of the last president of the association, the corporation was revived and the lease was signed by David.

A special legislative act is required because of restrictions placed on the land by a 1915 court case. The outcome of the case required that the “parks, streets, avenues, paths, and shore fronts” in Onset were “dedicated to the public forever” for bathing, boating, fishing, parks and open space. The decree was accepted at Wareham Town Meeting in 1917.

Teitelbaum, a lawyer who researched the decree for a case he worked in 1999, explained that it restricts how the town may use the land pending legislative action.

Of the decree, Teitelbaum said: “It’s essentially a constructive public trust before they had a name for such things.”

Legalese aside, Rasmussen said the coalition is anxious to begin programs this summer, starting with sailing classes open to kids in the Wareham Boys & Girls Club Summer of Fun program.

“This will be the first time sailing classes will be offered at Onset Beach in decades,” said Rasmussen.

The bathhouse renovation is a part of what else the coalition has in store for Onset, Rasmussen noted. It is currently working to restore Wickets Island by removing invasive plants and rehabilitating the historic stone pier and staircase to make the island safe for programming and open public access. That restoration is planned for completion this year.

The coalition has also purchased Burgess Point, which will be an additional location for coalition-led outdoor exploration.

Pacheco described the overall plan as a “visionary proposal” that would serve as an economic engine for tourism in the area.

State Rep. Susan Williams Gifford (R-Wareham) speaks after Selectmen signed a lease agreement with the Buzzards Bay Coalition on Monday as Selectmen Chair Peter Teitelbaum looks on. (Photo by: Matthew Bernat)
Officials stand behind an architect's rendering of the Onset Bay Discovery Center. (Photo by: Matthew Bernat)
Selectman Alan Slavin sports one of the Buzzards Bay Coalition hats given to officials after the signing. (Photo by: Matthew Bernat)
Selectman Judith Whiteside and State Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton) share a laugh. (Photo by: Matthew Bernat)
Comments (13)
Posted by: Whm4now | Jun 12, 2017 19:26

That seems really exciting.  Can't wait.

Posted by: Society for Suppression of Noise | Jun 12, 2017 22:22

"It doesn’t matter what your economic status is,” said Slavin. “This will be open to everyone.”

Except those of us who are NOT from Onset, apparently.

A special legislative act is required because of restrictions placed on the land by a 1915 court case. The outcome of the case required that the “parks, streets, avenues, paths, and shore fronts” in Onset were “dedicated to the public forever”.

Or not.  Thanks, selectmen.

Posted by: Steve Holmes | Jun 13, 2017 06:58

Nice job Alan and all our elected and volunteer Team that worked on this project. I am sure Susan and Marc will get this through the State very quickly. This project will create a fun educational experience for all, especially our young children.  When comp eyed this will be a year round destination for many school field trips, for classes all over the State and beyond. It's this year round kind of vision we need for growth and development in the village as opposed to the Sat or Sun events. They are ok too once in awhile but this kind of project will bring much needed revenue to local business year round and finally clean up that bathhouse.i did not see it in the story but if I remember correctly the kayak guy was still going to be housed there.

Posted by: totellthetruth | Jun 13, 2017 08:01

Pacheco and Williams -Gifford should work as hard getting the Affordable Housing  Bill through the Legislature.

Posted by: Doctor Deekas | Jun 13, 2017 13:33

Why is this a 99 year lease? What are the parameters to the Town terminating the lease or if this doesn't work out? A 20 year lease would've been more advantageous for the Town as well. What are the lease negotiations and how do we know that this will improve the Town? It might improve the building, but will this pay to get trashbarrels back? Seriously....

Posted by: Linda | Jun 14, 2017 22:35

So, if my child or a child here for the summer, doesn't belong to the Wareham Boys & Girls Club Summer of Fun Program............does this mean they can't learn to sail or join other activities?

Posted by: Steve Holmes | Jun 15, 2017 07:06

I am sure if your child or any child is here for the summer they will be allowed to participate. Being it's June 15th I would let either Kenny Fontes, Larry Senna or town hall know this week. So that your child can get on the list. I am sure there will be forms to fill out and registration etc.

Posted by: sadie | Jun 15, 2017 07:09

call town hall or the boys and girls club an ask them

Posted by: Steve Holmes | Jun 15, 2017 07:09

Dr. You know the answers to all those questions. This is no different than any other lease. And you know these are public record and it is probably on line. This was also approved at Town Meeting as are all Town land transactions. This is a good thing.

Posted by: Spherebreaker | Jun 15, 2017 07:47

Will these full time employees get free parking?

Posted by: cranky pants | Jun 15, 2017 08:48

I'm eager to see how they deal with the poison ivy on Wicket's island. Maybe they will just send over a herd of goats ?

Posted by: Spherebreaker | Jun 15, 2017 10:06

Cranky, They have already hired Victor Fries to do away with Poison Ivy

Posted by: cranky pants | Jun 15, 2017 10:30

Oh sweet, poison ivy slushy and ice cream coming right up !!

If you wish to comment, please login.