MVTV addition, new building considered at RHS

MVTV received permission to pursue plans for an addition to its building in a vote by the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) committee’s land use subcommittee (LUS) Monday night. The MVTV proposal comes on the heels of the superintendent’s building subcommittee’s discussion last month about the possibility of a new building on the high school campus for Superintendent of Schools James Weiss and his staff.

MVTV (Martha’s Vineyard Community Television) is a nonprofit organization controlled and operated by Island residents, according to its website. No commercial or political advertising appears on the station.

MVTV consists of three channels, a cable-access model familiarly known as PEG (public, education, government). Cameras, editing equipment, and technical direction are made available through an agreement with Comcast, the Island’s current cable service provider.

The building used by MVTV sits next to the MVRHS athletic fields and the Rebecca Amos Institute (RAI). The Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools own the building and lease it to MVTV for $100 a month.

Julienne Turner, MVTV’s new executive director, presented a proposal to double the size of the existing 1,560 square-foot building with a 1,988 square-foot addition. It would include classroom, studio, editing, and office space, as well as two much-needed bathrooms. The addition would put the building up against the athletic field fence in back and about six to eight feet from the RAI.

According to Ms. Turner, MVTV has put aside reserve funds of about $400,000 to $450,000 to pay for the entire project.

Under the terms of the Island’s current 10-year contract with Comcast, due to expire next June, Ms. Turner said the towns collect five percent of the cable company’s revenue from subscriber fees to give to MVTV to operate the station and upgrade its equipment and facilities. It amounts to about $400,000 a year.

Under a separate contract with MVTV, high school students may use the studio and equipment up to 15 hours a week. Ms. Turner said her main goal is to get more kids involved in public access television, as she was, starting at age 13.

Superintendent of schools James Weiss pointed out some of the challenges to MVTV’s proposal. “You’ll pay for the building, but it’s going to be our building,” he said. As such, although MVTV will pay for the addition, Mr. Weiss said the project would be subject to MVPS procurement rules, and school business administrator Amy Tierney would be responsible for the project as chief procurement officer. Under the school system’s procurement rules, the building addition might end up costing more, Mr. Weiss said.

On the plus side, Mr. Weiss told the LUS, now that the high school has plans for a town wastewater system connection, if MVTV adds restrooms, it might prove financially advantageous to construct some at the same time at RAI, which also has none. He estimated that with MVTV’s proposed addition, the two buildings would be about six to eight feet apart.

With the LUS’s permission to pursue plans for the building addition, Ms. Turner said MVTV would start by getting cost estimates. If the project proves feasible, she expects it might take up to a year and a half to complete.

In the meantime, the superintendent’s building subcommittee and All-Island School Committee are considering Mr. Weiss’s recommendation that a new office building should be built on the high school campus.

The superintendent’s offices, currently housed in a former church building owned by the MVPS on Pine Street, lack enough office and storage space, privacy for confidential discussions with school personnel and parents, and handicapped access to the second floor, where a conference room is located. Mr. Weiss said there also are concerns about whether the building’s old septic system may require a major upgrade.

In May 2009 the superintendent’s office and the Martha’s Vineyard Center for the Arts jointly submitted a proposal to the town of Edgartown about rehabilitating the old Edgartown School building. The plan called for turning the old cafeteria area of the school into a 3,000-square-foot theater for use by the Center for the Arts and some of the old classrooms into office space for Mr. Weiss and his staff.

The superintendent’s office did the groundwork last spring by getting approval at Island annual town meetings to seek special permission through legislation to sell the old building.

At the building subcommittee’s meeting on September 13, Mr. Weiss said he received a letter from Edgartown saying that the town had decided it might refurbish its old school building for a new library.

“Since the old Edgartown School is no longer an option, and since there is not adequate space in any of our school buildings, and since there is almost no adequate rental space available, I believe there is only one solution to the problem — build an office on the high school campus,” Mr. Weiss said in a memo to the building subcommittee.

At the MVRHS school committee meeting Monday night, Mr. Weiss said the All-Island School Committee is in favor of putting an article on the Island towns’ annual meeting warrants this spring requesting funds for a study on the feasibility of constructing a new building on the high school grounds.