Tisbury town meeting votes to build new school

Two nights of debate yield ‘the biggest expenditure that the town has ever made.’

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Updated 6 pm

The vote was 316 to 99, and came as town meeting resumed Wednesday night before a packed house inside the current Tisbury School’s gymnasium.

Voters debated the issue for another 2½ hours Wednesday after spending more than two hours on it Tuesday night, making it five hours over two nights. There were more than 300 voters packed into the gymnasium on Tuesday, and more than 400 on Wednesday.

Supporters said the new school project provides the space needed to effectively provide educational instruction, while opponents criticized the cost of the project and what some say was not enough attention paid to retrofitting the existing school.

“Did renovation get the proper consideration it needed?” Peter Goodale asked.

Colleen McAndrews, building committee chairman, defended the process, calling it open and transparent.

Other proponents called the reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up.

The town’s share of the construction costs would be just under $32 million, with the state kicking in $14.6 million. A Proposition 2½ debt exclusion is required, which would add about $108 for every $100,000 in assessed property value. Voters are headed to the polls on Tuesday, April 24.

Debate from Tuesday night carried through with vigor on Wednesday. While opinions weighed more toward approval of the new school, many residents continued to voice qualms. Not all of these were about school cost, oversight, or alternatives.

“Everyone has a lot to say one way or the other, but there’s one issue I haven’t heard yet that has a direct impact on us in the neighborhood,” Basia Jaworska Silva, a neighbor of the Tisbury School, said. “And that is the impact of the construction.” She went on to describe construction zones as “hell,” and gave a laundry list of ailments associated with the noise such zones generate. She also said the din of construction will hurt the income of those in the area who depend on summer rentals.

“I just can’t imagine being in a construction zone for three years,” she said.

“I know this school, and it felt old when I went here,” MacAleer Schilcher said. “I never fit into this school. I didn’t do very well in this school.” MacAleer said the cramped, dark, antiquated nature of the school undermined his academic development, and that the building was incongruous with the technological needs of students.

“The first personal computer came out in 1985; the Internet became accessible to people in 1990; Wi-Fi was invented in 1991, and the iPhone in 2007,” he said. “This place was built in 1929; the skills needed to thrive in the world — they are far different than when the school was built. The infrastructure of the school does not adequately prepare them for this world. I’ve been in here. I was barely prepared.”

Tisbury School Building Committee member Wiet Bacheller, a former third-grade teacher at the Tisbury School, told voters Tisbury faced a similar school crossroads some 90 years ago. At the cusp of the Great Depression, Tisbury opted to build a new school rather than renovate an old one, she said, and it did so by petitioning the legislature for extraordinary borrowing privileges — a move she described as a precursor to a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion.

Bacheller praised the leadership of the selectmen of the period: Frederick C. Vincent, William J. Look, and Edward C. Lord.

“The 1927 town fathers and residents made a historical decision to invest in the future of their children and the town, then and for their kids to come. Tonight, in 2018, we are faced with having to make a similar decision, a decision that will certainly have an impact on the future of our town. In closing, allow me to share the words of the school committee of 1929 in their report: ‘Only those who are in the old building, or often visit it, can realize the difficulty of work and the discomfort of congested conditions. The little folk have suffered and the teachers have done heroic work. If the plans for the new school are carried out, we shall have ample room for all the scholars and teachers to give their best, which we shall look for and expect.’”

At about 8 pm, with queues extending from audience microphones, Josh Goldstein motioned from the floor to halt debate by 9:30. The motion passed.

Just before the vote, another motion from the floor threatened to reopen debate for an unprescribed time period, but the motion was defeated.

Tisbury voters then took a standing vote, and by better than a two-thirds margin approved a school with a price tag equivalent to the MV Woods Hole.

Town moderator Deborah Medders moved on to the remainder of the warrant. Through the curious tradition of plucking a numbered chip from a porcelain pitcher and bringing forth for discussion and a vote whichever article the chip corresponded with, Medders defied probability and managed to select articles 30, 34, 35, 36, and 38 before the meeting closed. The previously voted Tisbury School article was 37.  

Like other towns this week, Dukes County Sheriff found Tisbury had no appetite for communications center funding. By a two-thirds majority, voters opted to table Ogden’s request for $77,756.

After protracted debate, including a spirited pitch by Dukes County Commissioner Christine Todd, voters approved $9,165 for the Substance Use Disorder Prevention Program.

And after several department heads fielded questions about their expenses, voters approved the fiscal 2019 operating budget of $27,892,354.

The meeting recessed after the budget passage, poised to carry into a third evening.

Reached in the Treasurer’s office Thursday, Tisbury finance director Jonathan Snyder summed up the momentousness of the school vote Wednesday: “This is the biggest expenditure that the town has ever made. I think the amount of time that we dedicated to its discussion over two nights was appropriate.”

Updated to include more details.