West Tisbury selectmen endorse purchase of VNA building

Selectman Manter abstained and questioned the costs involved.

Dukes County manager Martina Thornton appeared before West Tisbury selectmen last week with a proposal that all the Island’s towns cooperate to purchase the old Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA) building on Breakdown Lane in Vineyard Haven off of Old Holmes Hole Road for use by the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living.

Meeting on Wednesday, May 14, West Tisbury selectmen Richard Knabel and Cynthia Mitchell voted to recommend that Dukes County pursue the necessary legislation to enable a purchase. Chairman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter abstained, saying he would like to see other purchase options considered.

The county would seek legislation to allow the county to assume the debt burden on the building. Ms. Thornton said this could take up to six months during which time the opportunity to purchase the building might be lost.

Ms. Thornton estimated the cost of the building and renovations at approximately $1.6 million.

She said the building’s nearly 7,500 square feet of space exceeds the current space needs of the Center for Living and that some of the space could be rented to offset the cost of operations, and still leave room for the organization to expand as the aging population grows in the coming years.

The seller is the Edgartown National Bank, which took back the mortgage after the VNA ended operations on March 11.

“I think this is a great opportunity and it would be a shame if we couldn’t create something here for the Center,” Mr. Knabel said. “The needs of that program are great.” He said that the Island’s demographics indicate an aging population that will put additional demands on the Center.

Ms. Thornton said the building had not been appraised.

“It would be important to me to know what the building is worth,” Mr. Manter said. He said that he was concerned about buying a building that is twice the size needed that would require more maintenance and cost more for utilities. He said the county has had difficulty funding building maintenance in the past and suggested a better solution would be for the towns to collaborate or for one town to buy the building and the other Island towns pay rent rather than having the county own the building.

“I like the idea of the Center for Living having a home there.” Ms. Mitchell said. “I am a little confused about why the county wants to get involved. I believe the county advisory board wanted to get out of those programs, not into them.”

“It’s not like it’s going to be a county program,” Ms. Thornton said.

She said the county does not want to run the program; it only wants to help facilitate the purchase of the building which would be leased to the Center.

The Center for Living is funded by the Island towns and provides services or the elderly of the Vineyard. The organization currently provides most services on a reduced schedule of four days per week, using existing senior center facilities in Edgartown and Tisbury.

Ms. Thornton pitched the purchase idea to receptive Edgartown selectmen at their regular meeting the previous Monday.

In other town business, Mr. Knabel addressed the increased custodian needs for town buildings in addition to cleaning. He said the town’s needs have increased with the town hall, the enlarged library, the new police station and the Field Gallery all needing care.

“We have absolutely no custodial services,” he said. “I don’t know what we do when there are things like the light bulb that has been out for two months in the elevator.”

Town administrator Jennifer Rand said that Joe Tierney would be taking on the responsibilities of town facilities manager when he takes over as building inspector. His title now is local inspector. Mr. Tierney said that he expects to complete the requirements to qualify as building inspector in August and that he has already begun to learn about the operational needs of some of the town’s buildings.

Increases from $50 to $60 in plumbing, electrical, and gas inspection fees were approved by a unanimous vote. Permit fees will remain $50. Mr. Tierney said that the increased complexities and size of some of the new construction projects in town require more inspection time. As an aside he said that building permits have doubled in town over the last year, from 47 to 94.