Martha’s Vineyard Community Services proposes new campus

The plan links the development of affordable teacher housing with a move to adjoining regional high school property.

Martha's Vineyard Community Services is looking to develop a new campus on an adjacent lot. — Sam Moore

Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) leaders last week outlined a proposal at a meeting of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) land-use subcommittee under which the Island’s umbrella social services agency would move from the land it now leases from the high school to an adjacent 6.7-acre piece of school property and build a new campus. MVCS proposed developing 25 to 30 affordable year-round housing units on the current lot.

In total, MVRHS owns more than 50 acres of land, including 9.3 acres of property to the west of the current MVCS campus, directly across the street from the high school. MVCS recently conducted a space-needs study that estimated approximately 25,000 square feet of enclosed space, in addition to 90 parking spaces and outdoor space, is necessary for a new campus. Newer buildings, such as the Island Wide Youth Collaborative, would stay in place.

“My board has been talking for the past year or two about the buildings that we are in — we’ve been in them for 30 years-plus,” MVCS executive director Juliette Fay told The Times Tuesday. “They’re really tired, and we have some drainage issues on the property. We’ve outgrown our space in a really significant way.”

Additionally, Ms. Fay said, the organization is looking to add and expand its services. “We have some new programming that we’d like to bring on, and we’d like to have space for other types of programs in the future, and we really need to renovate where we are,” she said.

Ms. Fay said that currently, the childcare center is an issue.

“In talking about it, probably the biggest issue for us is the childcare center, and trying to renovate a childcare center when people are working and kids are in class there is really not at all a good thing to be doing,” she said. “That’s when we started thinking about other ways to go about it. The idea to occupy the new space came about … and it seemed like a good idea.”

The land that MVCS is eyeing to lease and develop has about 2.9 acres of buildable space, which the proposed plan says is sufficient to accommodate MVCS’ current and future needs. Additionally, 2.6 acres of the property will remain under the control of MVRHS and can serve the school’s needs, such as for a new superintendent’s office.

The plan includes a number of benefits for the Island’s public schools. For example, the affordable housing will be offered to teachers and public school personnel. Additional housing units will be dedicated to MVCS employees, with potential offers for hospital employees as well.

Facilities for a universal Island pre-K could be included on the proposed campus, “if M.V. Public Schools and MVCS agree that this will be useful,” according to the plan. Additional special education programming could also be included “to decrease the number of Island students being sent to off-Island residential schools and programs.” The MVCS childcare center would be expanded to cut down on the waitlist for community members and school personnel, and provide support for residents in the affordable housing units.

“In addition, MVCS is open to discussing inclusion of any other pressing needs for the school system that could be included in the new campus plan,” the proposal says.

The school committee will take up the proposal when it meets on June 27. If the school committee approves, MVCS will conduct a feasibility study to analyze the site and create diagrams and plans; conduct a feasibility study for housing on the existing campus; conduct a zoning analysis; make project budgets; and create materials for the community.

“The feasibility study would look at everything from fundraising to the apartment complex,” Ms. Fay said. “How many can you do? Are there going to be wastewater issues? Zoning issues? A feasibility study could really provide the map for what we could backfill this campus with.”

The proposal is just in the beginning stages, Ms. Fay said, and has no specific costs or plans attached to it yet. If it’s approved, the organization will look to fundraise for the project.

“There’s so many different pieces to it,” she said. “Obviously there’s a significant amount of fundraising that would have to go on to build a new campus, and a big capital campaign that would accompany that. There’s no timeline per se, but before we start a capital campaign we need to know, What is the plan? What are we raising the dollars for?”

Housing is key

Tuesday, Superintendent of School’s Matt D’Andrea said that the proposal has a number of benefits.

“It’s an interesting proposal, and it’s certainly a potential benefit to the school district around housing and the possibility of somehow including the superintendent’s office, and of course community services getting an improved facility,” he said. “Our relationship with them has been such a positive relationship, and so beneficial to the kids.”

He said the proposed housing would help with hiring and retaining school personnel. In his first-year report, Mr. D’Andrea said teachers reported the high cost of housing on the Island as a concern, citing that some sort of transition plan to assist new teachers would be beneficial.

The Island Housing Authority completed a survey of Island teachers about their housing situations, which reported that just over 70 percent of teachers are satisfied with their current living situation, just over 20 percent are somewhat satisfied, and under 10 percent are not satisfied. About 10 percent said they were considering leaving the school district because of housing challenges, about 15 percent were not sure, and just under 80 percent said they were not. Popular suggestions included offering temporary housing options, a loan program, or dorms.

“It would definitely be a step in the right direction in helping to resolve it,” Mr. D’Andrea said of the proposed housing units. “I think that many candidates when they become a finalist, or perhaps they’ve been offered a job, that when they start looking for housing it can be discouraging and sometimes they decide not to continue pursuing the position or they decide not to accept the position because of housing.”

He said it would probably be transitional housing for the first few years of the teacher’s employment.

“If we were able to say, ‘You have transitional housing,’ whether it be a year, two years, or potentially even three years, it would be very helpful,” Mr. D’Andrea said. But, he said, the school committee will need many questions answered prior to approving the ambitious project.

“The school committee needs to really hear and understand the proposal, and have time to see what it’s going to look like — how many housing units, what those will look like, how much land, all those things,” he said. “They need a lot of questions answered.”

He pointed out that the high school does not own an unlimited amount of land.

“The high school only owns a certain amount of land, and so I think the school committee is very careful and thoughtful about how that land is going to be used,” Mr. D’Andrea said. “I think that certainly will play into the decision-making process.”

For now, it’s about receiving more information prior to any decisions. “I think there’s a lot of potentially good outcomes from it,” Mr. D’Andrea said. “We’ll have to see how it all plays out.”