$1 million donation eyed for Peirce Building

Jan 24, 2023

MIDDLEBORO — Middleboro businessman WIlliam Decas seeks to donate $1 million toward the preservation of the Peirce Building in downtown, as long as the building is maintained in a manner that reflects its history.

The donation requires the town to preserve and maintain the “architectural, historic and cultural features’’ of the structure that reflects its “period of significance,’’ from about 1820-1850, as modified around 1936, according to the wording of the contract. 

Middleboro must successfully impose an historic restriction on the site and grant it to Historic New England for the donation to go through. 

A draft agreement between Decas and the town was reviewed by the Select Board at its Jan. 23 meeting. Town Manager James McGrail was asked by Select Board members to get more details and answer outstanding questions on some of the agreement language before bringing the issue back to the board. 

Decas, an attorney with Decas, Murray and Decas of Middleboro, is known for charitable gifts, including the creation of funds in memory of his parents and his brother. 

Select Board Member Brian Giovanoni requested more information on SouthCoast Community Foundation in New Bedford, which would invest and disperse the money donated by Decas.  The foundation matches donors and resources with community needs, according to their website. 

He also questioned whether the town could eventually sell the building.

“I want to make sure things are right,’’ he said. “What does it mean for the town?’’

Select Board Member Nathan Demers said the donation comes from “someone who loves the building’’ and that the money “takes the burden off the town’’ for some of the cost of renovating the building. “I think this is a really good thing.’’

“We’re dealing with a potential gift from a very respected member of the community,’’ Select Board Member Neil Rosenthal said. “I’m sure he’s not giving us a Trojan Horse.’’

The Peirce Building Reuse Committee, a group charged with reviewing possibilities for the building, has estimated the cost of renovating the building at $5 million.

That renovation would include a community center and a mix of public and private spaces. 

Some board members and town residents have questioned how this project would be paid for. McGrail was asked to seek out possible public/private partnerships for the building. 

The Peirce Building was built in 1808 and originally served as home to the Peirce General Store. The structure eventually became town property in 1935, when the police department moved in. The station was located at the site until 2018, when the department moved to its current Wood Street location.

Since then, the building has stood vacant.

Diane Fay, who was sitting in the audience, questioned what specifics would be required to ensure the building would be historically preserved. Community member Paula Fay also asked about details of the investment.

Another audience member, Louise Dery-Wells, thanked Decas for “putting his faith and hope’’ into the town. She said the donation was made “in good faith’’ and that the town should apply that same approach and “accept a gift with grace and gratitude.’’