New use seen for old Edgartown School
Edgartown leaders have spent several years exploring a new use for the brick building that formerly housed the Edgartown School. They have considered several possibilities none of which has gained any traction.
At their regular weekly meeting Monday selectmen greeted a new idea with an enthusiastic response. Invite the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, which is planning to move from its cramped Edgartown location to West Tisbury, to consider moving into the old school building instead.
Chris Scott, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust, presented the possibility to the selectmen. Mr. Scott told the selectmen that he had met with representatives of the museum and there is some real interest.
"I think this is a brilliant idea," said selectman Art Smadbeck. "I move to enthusiastically invite the Museum to consider taking over this building."
Selectman Michael Donaroma agreed. "I was not one that was pleased when I heard they were moving out of town," he said.
The board endorsed the concept and asked the town’s old school reuse committee to explore the idea with museum officials.
Picking his words carefully, on Tuesday, Keith Gorman, Museum executive director, said the Museum has been approached by the town and will seriously consider the proposal. "We feel we have to be responsible to our members and to the organization and to look at something that has been offered by the town in good faith to the Museum, and I think we are happy to take a look at it," he said.
Mr. Gorman said the first step was to speak with the Museum board, and at this point it is too early to draw any conclusions. "We are not endorsing this; we are just looking at this proposal," he said.
In a telephone conversation Tuesday, Mr. Scott said his involvement began when the selectmen asked him to evaluate the school and see what he thought about the building. Mr. Scott brings a unique perspective.
The Trust is responsible for many of the Vineyard’s treasured historical buildings and attractions, including the Old Whaling Church, Alley’s General Store and the Flying Horses Carousel. Mr. Scott said the selectmen thought a fresh pair of eyes might see some possibilities.
The 19,000-square-foot brick-faced building is located directly adjacent to the new Edgartown School on the West Tisbury Road a short walk from Main Street and downtown.
Over the years it has been considered for affordable housing and as a new location for the council on aging, library and superintendent of schools and town administrative offices. For various reasons none of those ideas have come to fruition.
Mr. Scott said his understanding is that the building is in good shape structurally but needs all new mechanical systems and a complete interior renovation. He said one important consideration for any future use is the proximity to the new school.
Mr. Scott said he has learned that when adaptively reusing a building, "If you can come to a use that is very similar to its original intended use it can quite often be successful and just about all of the preservation Trust buildings are functioning as they were intended to when they were built."
He said the two-story building was built as an educational institution and looks institutional. As he thought about it, the Vineyard Museum seemed a perfect fit.
Mr. Scott said the school was not a consideration when the Museum announced its intention to move. It seemed logical to raise it now, he said.
Acutely aware of the sensitivities involved and the Museum’s announced intention to move, Mr. Scott cautiously approached some members of the Museum and broached the topic. That led to a wider discussion and on Monday a tour of the building by members of the Museum.
Mr. Scott downplayed his involvement. He said at this point he has fulfilled his role, which was to be helpful.
James Cisek, co-chairman of the reuse committee, said there have been some very preliminary discussions, but he said the school would be a good fit for the Museum, the school and the town. He said it would also be compatible with the wishes of the town to continue an educational use of the space.
The Museum has a desperate need for more space to display, store, and protect material. The current campus is located in a tightly packed Edgartown residential neighborhood on School and Cooke Streets that affords no parking and little public visibility.
In November 2002 leaders of the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society, later renamed the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, announced plans to move lock, stock, and antique barrel to a new site in West Tisbury.
The announcement followed the Society’s purchase of 10 acres of the Littlefield family’s Scarecrow Farm property on State Road for $1 million. The purchase was part of a collaborative effort in which the Polly Hill Arboretum bought 15 Littlefield acres, and the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society purchased 5 acres.
Matthew Stackpole, then executive director of the Historical Society, said the Museum had outgrown its space "in every imaginable way." He said the plan was to construct a new building with ample display space, proper storage rooms and appropriate common areas, and be more accessible to the rest of the Island. The Society began a fundraising campaign with a target of $27 million. According to one source, the Museum has a long way to go to meet its fundraising goal.
In November Mr. Stackpole resigned. Mr. Gorman, former museum director of programs and archivist/
librarian, assumed full responsibility for the museum operations on Jan. 1. Mr. Gorman joined the museum three ago after working at the Smithsonian’s archives in Washington, D.C.