Hefty price tag on new superintendent’s office building explained

The current building on Pine Street includes offices for Martha's Vineyard Public Schools superintendent James Weiss and 17 staff members.
File photo by Janet Hefler

The current building on Pine Street includes offices for Martha's Vineyard Public Schools superintendent James Weiss and 17 staff members.

In a report last week in preparation for closing out the books for fiscal year 2012, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) accounts manager Mark Friedman touched on the estimated cost of the superintendent’s office building proposed for the grounds of the high school.

This week, school business administrator Amy Tierney placed emphasis on the word “preliminary” in any discussion of the $6.8 million figure she used as a placeholder in the high school’s capital budget. She said that number is based on a preliminary cost estimate commissioned by Keenan and Kenny Architects.

“They added up the estimated construction cost, plus other costs such as design fees, site fees, the owner’s project manager, and the additional cost due to the Island factor, which comes to $6.8 million,” Ms. Tierney explained. “We haven’t even seen the preliminary feasibility study yet, so when we see the final study, that might change. But we think it might come to, at the most, $6.8 million, so we used that as a placeholder in the capital plan. ”

Although the final study will still include an estimated total cost of the building, it will include exact numbers for the construction, design, site work, and Island factor costs, Ms. Tierney said.

How $6.8 million adds up

The cost estimate was based on a 12,600-square-foot building. Keenan and Kenny did an inventory of offices, personnel and needs to come up with the square footage, Ms. Tierney said.

Of that, the “people space” adds up to 8,600 square feet, compared to about 5,000 square feet in the current building on Pine Street, across the street from Tisbury School. It include offices for Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools superintendent James Weiss and 17 staff members. Another 12 staff members work outside of the building.

“It’s a very modest expansion of what we have now,” Ms. Tierney added. “The additional 4,000 square feet ended up being the basement. I had said that we would probably do a one or two-story building, but I wanted the basement to be open for storage.”

Ms. Tierney said the superintendent’s office currently pays for off-site records storage and would like to bring it back in-house to eliminate that cost.

The rectangular building would include a basement below ground and two stories above, of about 4,000 square feet each.

Why a new building?

“When Dr. Weiss first came here, we did a strategic plan, which included getting us out of here, because this building was just not functioning for us,” Ms. Tierney said. “That was in 2006. Since then we’ve talked about it and we’ve talked about it, and finally [Jeffrey] Skipper Manter pushed us to do something here. So that’s when we came up with the idea to do the $12,000 feasibility study first. Now that’s coming to fruition.”

At town meetings in 2011 the Island towns voted to appropriate about $2,000 each, for a total of $12,000, towards the study.

Schofield, Barbini and Hoehn did some initial land surveying at the high school, required for the study. The additional $4,500 cost came out of the high school’s budget, Ms. Tierney said.

The superintendent’s office building, formerly a church, is owned by the regional high school. In previous discussions with The Times, Mr. Weiss said that among its shortcomings, the building lacks enough office and storage space and has no rooms that offer privacy for confidential discussions with school personnel and parents.

There also is no handicapped access to the second floor, where a conference room is located. That would require the addition of an elevator. Another concern is the building’s old septic system, which may require a major upgrade.

Weighing the options

Mr. Weiss recommended to the high school committee’s land use subcommittee in 2010 that a new office building should be built on the high school campus. That option was one of three under consideration. The other two involved renovating the current building on Pine Street or leasing commercial space, since there was no adequate space in any MVPS buildings.

Ms. Tierney said when she and Mr. Weiss looked at what renovations would be required to remain in the Pine Street building, they learned the site is very limited because it is so small and already has non-conforming setbacks on two sides.

Also, the town of Tisbury said the building could not be hooked up to the municipal sewer system. Since the septic tank takes up most of the space under the lawn out front, Ms. Tierney said the building’s expansion is not an option.

Power needs have also become an issue. This summer, the staff has found that every time the air conditioning goes on, the copying machines shut down.

In exploring the leasing option, Ms. Tierney said last fall that she and Mr. Weiss looked at a limited number of available commercial properties around the Island that might meet their requirements, which included the old Hollywood video store at the Triangle in Edgartown and the Vineyard Nursing Association space off State Road.

“None of the properties we looked at worked well for what we’re trying to do,” she said. “We really felt that being on a school property was the best place for us to be.”

Coincidently, a site occupied by two buildings on the high school grounds will soon be available. The Rebecca Amos Institute is moving inside the high school building next fall, and MVTV will move from its building at the end of the fiscal year.

“It’s the perfect spot, with tie-ins for electrical, water, sewer, and there is already a parking lot there,” Ms. Tierney said.

“Once we have the results of the architects’ study, we’ll take it to the [school land use]committee and say this is the work we’ve done with a consultant to determine that the most feasible thing to do is to build a building at the high school,” she added.

Budget breakdown

The All-Island School Committee (AISC) approved a $4.042 million fiscal year 2013 (FY13) budget requested by Mr. Weiss on November 2, 2011. It includes expenses for operations and personnel in the superintendent’s office, as well as shared services and programs, including special education, which are provided through his office.

As MVPS superintendent, Mr. Weiss oversees 2,027 students in separate elementary school districts in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury, and two regional school districts.The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School District includes students from Island-wide, and the Up-Island Regional School District includes students from the towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark and West Tisbury. The costs of shared services and programs are divided among the school districts.