Architects offer six design options for Tisbury School building

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Two architects from Flansburgh Associates outlined six design and site options for the renovation and expansion of the Tisbury School, or possibly a new building, in a PowerPoint presentation at a workshop last week. The group of about 20 people that attended the meeting in the school library included parents, school staff, members of the school advisory council and building committee, and representatives from the town’s Planning Board and building and zoning department.

Voters at town meeting last spring approved spending $40,000 to fund a comprehensive facility study of the Tisbury School. The study’s purpose is to determine space needs and the feasibility of reconditioning the existing building or replacing it, either on the current site or somewhere else.

The Tisbury School Committee awarded a contract for the feasibility study in late August to Flansburgh Associates, one of five architectural firms that submitted bids. The company went to work immediately to send in teams of engineering experts to assess the school building’s condition before students returned, according to Principal John Custer.

In late September architects Jorge Cruz and Duncan McClelland held an initial workshop with the school staff to discuss their findings and the school’s goals and vision for the future.

Based on those discussions, the architects came up with the design options that follow the guidelines of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), which funds grants for capital improvement projects in the state’s public schools. The design options include an additional computer room, bigger classrooms that measure 950 square feet, and a larger gym, for an increase in the existing building from 50,000 square feet to 87,000.

Because of the gym, Mr. McClelland said that figure slightly exceeds the MSBA guideline of 84,000 square feet for an enrollment of 386 students. Although the school currently has 329 students, the architects based their designs on a projected future enrollment of 386 students, using an average of projected school enrollments over the next five years from the New England School Development Council.

The reimbursement rates for MSBA-approved, eligible school construction and renovation projects range from 31 to 80 percent, based on a formula adjusted for a community’s socioeconomic factors and incentive points for factors such as energy efficiency and renovation and reuse of an existing facility.

Tisbury School was built in 1929 on a town-owned parcel of about five acres on Spring Street. A gymnasium was added in 1938, and a building addition and renovation project completed in March of 1995.

Three of the architect’s new design options would utilize the present school site on Spring Street. Two designs feature additions constructed on both ends of the school. The third option includes a design for a new school building, to be constructed in the area where the playing fields are now located. The old school would be demolished.

To show due diligence, the architects also came up with three options that would utilize alternative sites in Tisbury, on town-owned parcels with a minimum of 10 acres. They came up with three possibilities, Veterans Field in Vineyard Haven, and two parcels near the Manter and Tashmoo wells.

Mr. McClelland said they recognized, however, that all three have zoning or conservation restrictions that would require special handling. Since those parcels are about twice the size of the school’s current site, the architects created a different design with a larger footprint that includes a core section and two wings.

The pros and cons

Following the PowerPoint presentation, the architects gave everyone a handout that ranked the design options in terms of the school’s criteria and encouraged discussion.

“The Planning Board has always found, when we think of how the town functions, that we think of the school as the heart of the town,” planning board co-chairman Henry Stephenson commented about the alternate sites. Given its central location, he added, “We would very much prefer to have the school located at this site.”

Planning board member Dan Seidman took exception with many of the MSBA’s recommended guidelines for education program space and also questioned the need for such a big expansion at Tisbury School.

“Now, everybody gets all excited about spending other people’s money, MSBA, but that’s your money, that’s my money,” he said. “So before we get all excited about that, I think we need to look at each one of these.”

Mr. Seidman said his two children, who attended Tisbury School and are now in private colleges did just fine in the smaller classrooms.

“So just because the MSBA says our classroom size needs to be 950 square feet doesn’t mean we need to all jump up and down and make them that size,” he said.

“You can always negotiate anything with the MSBA,” Mr. Cruz said. “But if you want their funding, you try to meet their guidelines. That’s what we did in this exercise.”

Mr. McClelland said it was the architects’ first attempt, and that different spaces could be adjusted accordingly. However, some are dictated by special education (SPED) requirements.

“The bigger the building, the more people you’re going to need to run it, and the more it’s going to cost,” Mr. Seidman added. “So just because we can get money, doesn’t mean we should. Just because it should be, according to the MSBA, 84,000 total square feet, that number just seems super high to me. That’s me as a parent talking and me as a taxpayer talking.”

“The classrooms we have currently, given our current enrollment, are more than a little tight,” Mr. Custer said. “We find it restricts what we want to do with kids.”

School business administrator Amy Tierney said enrollment fluctuations, particularly in kindergarten, make it necessary sometimes to have a “swing” classroom.

Another consideration is the school’s special education classes, which are currently housed in portable trailers outside the building. Mr. Custer said in previous reviews by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Tisbury School has been cited for inadequate spaces for SPED classes as well as general classroom space.

“Some of it is dictated by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education,” Mr. Custer explained. “We don’t have the space and haven’t had it, for certain elements of what we’re trying to do to educate kids.”

“I’m just saying there’s probably a good 10,000 to 15,000 square feet that could come out of this, and if we do that, I don’t think the building is going to suffer or the students are going to suffer,” Mr. Seidman said. “We have to realize that ultimately it’s our money and that we have to pay for it going forward. Any time you make this incrementally bigger, it’s incrementally more expensive to maintain it, in any way, shape or form.”

What will it cost?

At the conclusion of the discussion, the majority of the group said they preferred design option two, which would involve renovations and additions to the existing building. A piece of the building would be demolished at the end where the gym is now located, and an addition built with a cafeteria beneath a new gym. A new classroom addition would be built at the other side of the school building.

“This is great; it’s amazing what you put together, but we need to see costs,” Nell Coogan, the Island’s legislative aide and a graduate of Tisbury School, suggested to the architects. “I would even say on all six, and that’s because it might be really, really different for each one, and it really might make people think, whoa, wait a minute, what about option two.”

The architects agreed. Mr. Cruz said it would take about three weeks to a month to complete the draft feasibility study with cost estimates. Mr. Custer said another workshop will probably be scheduled in early December.