Tisbury School leaders debate how to increase space

Should they renovate, or build new?

Principal John Custer discusses plans to redesign the Tisbury School. — Stacey Rupolo

Tisbury School leaders, in concert with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), want to know by June whether to renovate the old, existing school or build a new one. The school is working with the state on a feasibility study, to decide which course is the right one.

The current school, the MSBA has determined, does not have enough space to meet the needs of its roughly 320 students. The Tisbury School was built in 1929, with a gymnasium added in 1938, and a library and more classroom space added in the early 1990s. The feasibility study now underway will answer the new or rehab question.

In April of 2015, Tisbury School was one of eight chosen out of a pool of nearly 100 schools across the state to join the MSBA program. In January 2016, the MSBA invited Tisbury School to enter the “eligibility period” for its grant program, which gives financial and instructional support to communities that must repair or replace a school. This step put the town on the planning and funding path.

Tisbury School Principal John Custer said that the financial and instructional support are the great advantages of working with the MSBA. MSBA provides state reimbursement for a school building project — a minimum of a little more than 41 percent of the entire project cost. And, the MSBA oversees the project, offering guidance and expertise.

“Not only is it the financial component, which is attractive, but they hold your hand and walk you through every step of the process,” Mr. Custer said in a Jan. 19 interview.

Although towns do not have to use MSBA services, and some schools prefer not to be tied to state restrictions, funding the entire project locally can be prohibitive for many towns. With the prospect that the state will reimburse the town for at least 40 percent of the eventual project’s cost, the Tisbury School has chosen to partner with the MSBA.

An article on last year’s annual town meeting warrant asked voters to agree to borrow $825,000 for the next, now the current, phase of the Tisbury School project — a study of whether to renovate or build new. Voters overwhelmingly supported the borrowing.

“It’s a school project, but it’s also a town project,” Mr. Custer said.

The feasibility study began last summer with a designated project team at the MSBA, an owner’s project manager (OPM), and an architect. The OPM is a Boston-based firm called Daedalus that has worked previously on the Vineyard. The Town of Tisbury is the owner of the project, and Daedalus manages it. Turowski2 Architecture Inc., based in Marion, are the architects.

The state requires the school to explore four building project options: renovation of the building as is; renovation and an addition; construction of a new building at the current location; or construction of a new building at a new location.

Mr. Custer said the study concluded that the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) in the existing school building is “substandard,” and it is too small.

“I don’t want people to have the impression that this building is crumbling, because it’s not,” Mr. Custer said. “It’s old and there are certain systems and parts of the infrastructure that are in significant need of repair, but we’re making do in the meantime, and we’re taking care of the building.”

Mr. Custer said the school needs to have adequate space for 320 students, a number which has remained consistent over the last decade. The building must also have ancillary spaces to address student needs —  special education, technology, and English language learner (ELL) programs.

This year, there are more than 80 students who require those programs, and each program requires different spaces. Providing those spaces is “good education,” Mr. Custer said.

“I look forward to having a facility that is more appropriate for teaching all of our kids,” Mr. Custer said.

Two workshops, on Monday and Tuesday this week in the town’s emergency services facility (ESF), sought comments from teachers, parents, and students on needed education programs and the construction decision.

The feasibility study has looked at some potential sites if the decision is to build new at a new location. The existing three-story building is roughly 55,000 square feet and sited on five acres of land.

Though some possible sites may not be useable because of deed restrictions, all are town-owned properties, and all are just possibilities. The study looked at a site off Franklin Street near Mink Meadows Golf Course, a site off West Spring Street known as the “Tashmoo Well,” and a site referred to as “Manter Well Land” behind Holmes Hole Road.

If the Tisbury School were located on a new site, the town could use the current property and even the building for another purpose. What that might be, Mr. Custer said, is unknown. But, he called the school and its property an “asset” and perhaps an “opportunity” for the town.

“I see this as a very exciting opportunity for the town because, let’s face it, in Tisbury there are some other needs,” Mr. Custer said. The current building might house the town hall, police station, town hall annex, or the senior center — some of the ideas he’s heard.

If a new school building were constructed on the current site, it’s likely the building that stands now would be razed.

When the planners reveal a “preferred design option,” it would go to the state for approval. By November or December, Mr. Custer said, it is likely that Tisbury will hold a special town meeting to ask for funding for the entire project, and the town will know how much the state will reimburse.

“It’s got good bones,” Mr. Custer said of the old school building, “but with the continual wear and tear on it as a school, it’s no longer an adequate educational facility.”