Tisbury School committee to pursue new building construction

The Tisbury School is in need of many repairs, school officials said. — File photo by Lynn Christoffers

The Tisbury school committee is moving forward with plans to construct a new school at an off-campus site, on one of two town-owned parcels. On Monday, December 9, the school committee hosted a meeting with architect Jorge Cruz of Boston-based Flansburgh Architects to discuss the process by which the school committee will seek reimbursement for half of the total cost, estimated at approximately $43 million, through a grant from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).

Flansburgh Architects was responsible for a 2012 feasibility study that identified the shortcomings of the present school building and the cost for renovation and expansion, estimated at approximately $45 million, versus building a new school.

The meeting, attended by school administrators, superintendent of schools James Weiss, school business administrator Amy Tierney, teachers, school advisory committee members and parents, was a follow-up to an October meeting at which the decision to move was made.

On October 11, school committee members Colleen McAndrews, Janet Packer, and Bob Tankard voted unanimously in favor of construction of a new school building off-site. Ms. McAndrews, chairman of the three-member committee, told The Times the committee chose the option of new construction off-site because it would be the least disruptive to students, and would also give the town the opportunity to reuse the old building for other municipal services.

In introductory remarks at Monday’s meeting, Tisbury School principal John Custer said that Mr. Cruz, whose firm has been involved in many school construction projects in the state, had offered to advise and assist the Tisbury School committee in completing the MSBA application process.

If Tisbury’s project is accepted, Mr. Cruz said the baseline reimbursement rate is 50 percent, and is calculated on a formula adjusted for a community’s socioeconomic factors and incentive points for other factors such as energy efficiency, for example.

The MSBA process

As a first step, Mr. Cruz recommended that the school committee file a Statement of Interest (SOI) by April 11. The application process costs nothing, he said, and is key to getting Tisbury School in what will likely be a long line for consideration. Mr. Cruz warned that the competition is stiff, and that he has not yet seen a project granted for a school outside of Boston on its first application.

“You need to get in the queue,” he said. “Every year there are between 150 and 200 applicants in the state of Massachusetts, and out of that, you might get 25 that actually become building projects. You have to resubmit an application every year, and your needs are weighed against the other applicants.”

Mr. Cruz said the SOI application includes a list of eight priorities, for example, to replace or renovate a building to eliminate overcrowding, or to provide a full range of programs. A school can check off multiple categories, but it must describe what has been attempted to mitigate the problems and why they are still present.

Mr. Cruz said that the best-case scenario is likely a two-year process.

Although Tisbury School had a feasibility study done, if selected for a grant, the MSBA would require its own study and a more in-depth review, Mr. Cruz said. Once accepted for a feasibility study, the school committee would have 120 days to get town meeting approval for funding and complete it.

The MSBA usually requires half of the feasibility study cost up front, about $500,000, which would be reimbursed monthly after the study is done, Mr. Cruz said. He estimated it might take up to five years from the project’s acceptance by the MSBA to completed construction.

How the decision came about

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.

The process to consider renovation or replacement of the Tisbury School building began at town meeting in April 2012, when voters approved spending $40,000 to fund a feasibility study. The Tisbury School Committee awarded a contract in late August that year to Flansburgh Associates to assess the school building’s condition before students returned from summer vacation.

The study detailed the school’s many pressing needs, from a new roof, windows and insulation, to additional classroom space. Special education students, for example, are currently housed in a trailer outside the building.

Mr. Cruz and his associate, Duncan McClelland, held an initial workshop in September 2012 with the school staff to discuss their findings and the school’s goals and vision for the future. Based on those discussions, the architects presented six design options at a well-attended workshop held in October 2012 .

Using the MSBA guidelines, and a future enrollment of 386 students based on projections from the New England School Development Council, the architects’ designs are for an 87,000-square-foot building, which is 36,000 square feet more than the existing facility.

The design options include an additional computer room, bigger classrooms that measure 900 square feet, and a larger gym, as well as a minimum of 100 parking spaces.

Three of the design options would utilize the present school site on Spring Street. Two designs featured additions constructed on both ends of the school. The third option included 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.

The architects also came up with three other design 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. All of those have restrictions as protected park land or open space and would require state legislative approval for use.

The school committee eliminated Veterans Field from the list because of the many recent improvements made there and its value to the town as a park. They requested that the architects come back with budgets for five of the design options, which Mr. Cruz provided in a presentation in December 2012 .

In regard to the two off-site design options, Mr. Cruz said the estimated cost of a two-story school building on 8 of 15 acres at the Tashmoo well site, with a baseball field, basketball court and playgrounds, would be $43,187,400. The cost of the same two-story school building design, a basketball court, and playground, on 10 of 25 acres on a parcel near the Manter well, was estimated at $43,104,300. The Tashmoo well site is on the north side of State Road at the Tashmoo Overlook. The Manter well site is on the opposite side of State Road, between Norton and Old Holmes Hole roads.

Ms. McAndrews said the school committee would wait for the advice of the MSBA to determine which site would be best.

Ms. McAndrews said the school committee would begin work on the SOI right away, and continue to update the public and town officials on the process.

Mr. Custer said a school building committee will be created if and when the MSBA and the town approve the project.