Plans for Former Cotuit Elementary School

Slip ‘n slide at the Cotuit Kettleers’ Youth Baseball Clinic held at the Cotuit Elementary School
(Credit: Martha Johnston/Cotuit Kettleers)

The Town of Barnstable is considering demolishing the former Cotuit Elementary School and to transfer some or all of the 13.5 acres of surrounding land. The property, which includes wooded areas with trails, a baseball diamond, tennis courts, and open fields, has long been a popular recreational spot for Cotuit residents. Up gradient to one of Cotuit’s public drinking wells, the site is only 800 feet from the well head, and nearly all of the property is part of the MassDEP’s Zone II well protection area.

The Town of Barnstable has been in discussions regarding the fate of the property at least since June 2020, when the Barnstable Asset Management Advisory Committee raised the prospects of selling, converting, or demolishing the school. Among the options being considered is the proposal to subdivide the land into three buildable lots, some fraction of which may then be reserved for affordable housing. These lots would then be sold to developer(s), in part to cover the estimated $800,000 cost of demolishing the school (the high cost is in large part due to the necessary removal of hazardous materials).1

Another proposed plan would involve the Cotuit Fire Department relocating to the property, where it would share a building with other district offices and possibly a community center. It is not clear if this would involve the construction of a new building or the restoration of the existing school building. An assessment commissioned by the Town’s Asset Management Advisory Committee estimates that it would cost $4M to restore the building as a school (with an immediate expense of $2.3M), and more to change its use.

Jessica Rapp-Grassetti, the Precinct 7 Town Councilor, Jim Dannhauser, the President of the Cotuit-Santuit Civic Association, and others have strongly advocated that the Cotuit Fire District as well as residents of Cotuit be involved in the discussion. A dedicated School Committee comprised of members of the different District committees was formed to represent the District. A subcommittee consisting of Jaci Barton, Jim Dannhauser, and Mark Lynch2 was created shortly thereafter to determine the feasibility of the Cotuit Fire District to obtain ownership of some or all of the property from the Town of Barnstable.

Because the school subcommittee is trying to determine the Fire District’s position and authority to negotiate receiving ownership of the land from the Town, much of the recent deliberation has occurred in executive session.3 However, minutes from a recent school subcommittee meeting on April 7, 2021 are available to the public and the link can be found here as well as on the Prudential Committee website. The minutes of the meetings that occurred in executive session are not expected to be made public until an agreement is reached with the Town.

Google Earth image of the Cotuit Elementary School with an approximate annotation of the 13.5 acre property.

Built in 1955 on 13.5 acres, the Cotuit Elementary School was in operation until the Barnstable School Committee voted to close the school in 2008 as part of a district-wide consolidation and restructuring plan. In November 2009, the School Committee approved a 56-month renewable lease to the Waldorf School, which began teaching students at the school in March 2010. In January 2019, the Barnstable School Committee voted to recommend that the Town not renew the lease to the Waldorf School, which was $20,000 in arrears at the time. In November 2019, the School Committee voted unanimously to declare that the building is no longer needed for educational purposes and that the custody and control of the property should return to the Town. In June 2020, the Barnstable Asset Management Advisory Committee began a community discussion regarding whether to sell, convert, or demolish the school, and what to do with the surrounding land.

A number of Cotuit residents have voiced their strong desire that the fields, tennis courts, and wooded areas be preserved, particularly in light of the shortage of recreational space in the Village. The Board of Water Commissioners has similarly stressed their preference for preserving the fields and forest, which provide valuable watershed recharge areas for the nearby well.

An open and informational meeting on March 25, 2021 gave an update to the public regarding the current status of this ongoing process. The slides from the presentation were made public as well. (Both the meeting recording and slides can be found on this site under “Relevant Meetings” as well as on the Prudential Committees website.)

We hope all residents who care about the fate of these 13 acres will participate in the dialogue and voice their opinions to our elected officials. Our goal is to encourage awareness and continued communication regarding this important issue with the residents of Cotuit.

  • Fate of the Cotuit Elementary School
    Sketch of Cotuit Elementary School
    A sketch of the proposed Cotuit Elementary School designed by architect William B. Colleary published in The Barnstable Patriot on February 24, 1955.

    The Cotuit Elementary school was built in 1955 and educated students from Cotuit shortly thereafter until 2008, when the Town of Barnstable decided to close the school as part of a larger consolidation effort. For the next nine years, the building and surrounding property were leased to the Waldorf School of Cape Cod until January 2019, when the Town decided to not renew the lease. The building has since sat unused.

    As detailed on our Cotuit Elementary School page, many discussions at the Town and District levels have occurred regarding the fate of the building and property. The property includes wooded trails, tennis courts, a baseball diamond, and field that have long been important recreational resources for Cotuit residents. Additionally, the property lies in close proximity to one of Cotuit’s well heads and any future development could be detrimental to the Village’s water source.

    Two articles regarding the school building and property were put forth before Cotuit residents at the 2021 annual meeting. The first (Article 16) was to enable the Fire District to accept the transfer of the school building and surrounding 8.5 acres (of the total 13.5 associated with the property) from the Town and to allocate $45,000 for the Fire District to maintain it for one year. The second article (Article 17) called for the transfer of $207,500 to “re-open and fund” a space needs study to consider three potential uses for the former school building and property and their associated costs. (The original 2019 study considered potential solutions to fix issues with the existing Cotuit Fire Station including building an ancillary structure in the lot adjacent to the existing Station and building an addition onto the existing Station.)

    The re-opened study will assess the cost of:

    — Demolishing the school building and keeping the space as “green space”.

    — Repurposing the school building and property to house the Cotuit Fire Station.

    — Repurposing the school building and property to serve as a community center and/ or space for community offices.

    The Town of Barnstable previously obtained a quote to demolish the building. Additionally, the Town of Barnstable’s Asset Management Advisory Committee funded a Comprehensive Facilities Assessment that, while focused on restoring the building as a school, concluded that the cost of repurposing the building exceeds $4M (per February 27, 2019 meeting minutes).

    On May 26, 2021, residents of Cotuit voted in support of Articles 16 and 17. The District will take possession of the building and the adjacent 8.5 acres and allocate $207,500 to re-open and fund the space needs study. Upon completion of the study, there will be a special district vote where the residents of Cotuit will decide between the three options detailed in the study (listed above).

  1. A more recent figure puts the cost of demolition at just under $1M.
  2. The minutes from the January 6, 2021 School Committee state that a decision was made to form a subcommittee consisting of Jim Dannhauser, Mark Lynch, and Donald J. MacKinnon. Fran Parks, the Chair of the Prudential Committee, provided a correction that Ms. Barton is now on the subcommittee and not Mr. MacKinnon.
  3. The Massachusetts Open Meeting Law, which was designed to ensure transparency in governance, requires that most public body meetings be held in public. The law provides specific exceptions that allow for private meetings in executive session (see page 11). In this case, the School Committee references the exception for meetings “To consider the purchase, exchange, lease or value of real property if the chair declares that an open meeting may have a detrimental effect on the negotiating position of the public body,” which allows for private meetings “only where an open meeting may have a detrimental impact on the body’s negotiating position with a third party” (see page 13)