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Bridgewater's growing, so schools must too

By Teri Borseti, Globe Correspondent, 4/06/2002

BRIDGEWATER - This is the home of Bridgewater State College and the Bridgewater Correctional Complex, but there's more to the town than two state institutions. Bridgewater's charming downtown has a large grassy common surrounded by municipal buildings, many of which are restored antiques, and numerous small businesses, including eateries.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] The college, which has about 9,000 students (full- and part-time, graduate and undergraduate) was established in 1840. For a long time, it was best known for turning out educators. Today, it also offers business and aviation science programs, in addition to other major courses of study.

Some of the college's main buildings are neatly tucked into a couple of blocks near the town center; overall, the campus has 235 acres.

About two miles from the center of town is the 1,531-acre Bridgewater Correctional Complex.

Bridgewater's location, about 27 miles south of Boston, has contributed to steady population growth in recent years, from 23,692 in 1996 to 25,185 in 2000. And since the 2000 census, town officials say, the population has grown rapidly.

An expressway, Route 24, runs through the town, and there is an MBTA commuter rail stop on the state college campus.

"The thing that's been impacted the most by the increase in population is our school system, which is now overcrowded," said James Nihan, clerk of the Board of Selectmen.

Last month, a special Town Meeting took up a proposal to raise $76.5 million to build a second high school for the Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School District. No decision has been made yet.

For the town to receive a 70 percent reimbursement from the state, Nihan said, plans must be ready to be submitted by 2003.

"We're in a regional school system with Raynham, and we'll have to come up with two-thirds of the money," he said. "Raynham will have to come up with the remaining one-third. Those figures are population-driven."

The middle and elementary schools have grown crowded, too, he said, and the town is considering whether to do extensive renovations or to enlarge those schools.

"We just opened the new elementary school three years ago, and it's already overcrowded," Nihan said. The cost of updating all three schools could be as high as $125 million.

One population in town is about to decline, though.

Thhe state has cut the budget for the Southeastern Correctional Center, part of the Bridgewater Correctional Complex, and decided to relocated medium-security inmates to other prisons. (Minimum-security inmates will remain.) The prison population is expected to drop by 500 to 600 inmates, but that means the Bridgewater town budget will lose about $210,000 in state prison-mitigation payments, and some prison jobs will be lost.

Bridgewater was settled in the early 1600s, an agricultural area that later became an industrial town. In the 18th century, several foundries set up shop and eventually supplied iron forgings for the Revolutionary and Civil wars. In the 1900s, Bridgewater was known for shoe, nail, and brick factories; today it is mostly a bedroom community with some light industry.

Regardless of the issues faced by the town, the real estate market is robust, said realtor Dave Wood, of Jack Conway Realty. Wood said first-quarter 2002 has been his best yet, and that the only problem is lack of homes for sale.

"Houses come on the market and are gone in about 10 days, and condos sell immediately," he said.

Single-family homes range from $200,000 to $260,000 for a ranch or fixer-upper, and $380,000 to $480,000 for three- or four-bedroom Colonials.

Condominiums range from $100,000 for a studio, to $225,000 for a two-bedroom unit.

"This town has a lot of two-income families who commute to Boston," Wood said. "There are also quite a few college students here for most of the year. It's a nice mix."

The town has its own public golf course, with discounts for residents. This month, voters will be asked to approve spending $2.95 million to build a clubhouse at the course.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 4/06/2002.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company
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