October 2, 2022

The Anawan School: Next Chapter

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The Anawan School has been through its shares of ups and downs through the years. However, the future of the building is looking bright.

Voters at the May 14 town meeting approved a land swap between the town of Rehoboth and the Housing Authority.

In exchange for giving the town a six acre parcel of land off of Anawan Street, the Housing Authority was given control over 5.41 acres of land on Bay State Road which contains the Anawan School and the adjacent site where the former Council on Aging was located.

Paul Jacques, chairman of the Housing Authority, has proposed constructing 30 units of senior housing. The group is working with the Women’s Development Corporation, the Historical Commission, and the Community Preservation Committee on the project.

For awhile, the building’s prospects were grim.

In June 2021, William McDonough, the town’s Building Commissioner, said the property at 53 Bay State Road was “unsafe” and ordered it to be demolished within 90 days.

“Upon entering, there were dead squirrels in the foyer area, along with about 90 percent of all ceilings collapsed to the floors,” McDonough wrote in a letter to Selectman David Perry.

McDonough also reported “black mold” all over the walls and floors and said all of the hardwood floors were “completely buckled and rotted.”

The Rehoboth Board of Selectmen later voted to demolish the building.

At one time, the Women's Development Corporation, based in Providence, had hoped to convert the property into 36 affordable housing units for the elderly. The $5 million project would have involved renovating the front portion of the building and demolishing the back portion to construct the units.

In September 2020, the selectmen told Dean Harrison, the director of real estate for the WDC, that the Anawan School was a public health hazard. “I see that as a liability to new construction,” said Selectman Jim Muri. “I just don’t see this working,” Perry told Harrison. “There are too many red flags here.”

Advocates for saving the building noted the property’s historic value.

Community Preservation Committee Chair Carol Williams told the Board of Selectmen last September the building was “structurally sound” based on the evaluation conducted by an engineer hired by the CPC.

Selectmen Chairman Skip Vadnais explained the CPC would have to use their own funds for the building because the town was spending money to refurbish Francis Farm for the new Council on Aging facilities as well as a new Town Hall.

Anawan School first opened its doors to students in Rehoboth in 1930. Designed to accommodate grades 1-8 in four rooms, it eliminated five of ten one-room district schools in town, matched the growing trend in other nearby towns, and promoted educational progress.

Anawan School was named for Chief Anawan of the Pocasset People and Wampanoag who was captured in town marking the end of King Philip’s War in 1676. In the original building there was the main floor offering an office, teachers’ room, and 4 classrooms with seats for 166 students. Hardwood floors, high ceilings, and large classroom windows permitting a capacity of natural light were installed. The basement accommodated the heating plant, toilets, a store room, playroom, an auditorium with a stage, and small kitchen.

As described by the principal and noted in the 1930 Annual Report of the town offices, Anawan School was now a place of “Student pride which the children felt and the response to the new advantages were further incentives to better individual effort.” In promoting that awareness, a carved wooden sign was hung at the entrance of the school stating “Through these doors walk the best children in the world”.

Note: Some of the information in this story courtesy of Lende McMullen, E. Otis Dyer Research Center Manager.

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