Martha's Vineyard Commission says it has final say in hospital brick
The Martha's Vineyard Commission will take up the issue of the color of the brick and stone chosen for use in the façade of the new Martha's Vineyard Hospital, now under construction. The meeting could be a costly exercise in Island aesthetics.
The crux of the issue is the hospital's view that the Martha's Vineyard Commission's final look at the brick was for review purposes, and the Martha's Vineyard Commission's view that the powerful regional permitting body's final look is to approve the color of the brick that will be used.
It is not an academic question. The brick has already been ordered, and the steel skeleton of the $42 million building that will replace the one-story outdated wooden hospital is beginning to take shape. Any delay or change, hospital officials said, would be very costly.
Mark London, Martha's Vineyard Commission executive director, insists that when the regional permitting body approved the project, the decision included a requirement that the hospital return to the commissioners with samples of the actual brick for their final approval.
Mr. London said the Martha's Vineyard Hospital will be the largest building on Martha's Vineyard and is in a highly visible location. He said the hospital agreed to use a color similar to traditional Vineyard brick buildings, and the Martha's Vineyard Commission asked to see the color before the bricks were ordered.
Tim Sweet, hospital vice chairman and chairman of the building committee, said the commission and a group of Island architects reviewed the color of the brick fully during the permitting process. Mr. Sweet said it was always his understanding that the hospital would present the brick to the commissioners only for review.
"We formed an architectural review committee of Island architects, and we showed them the bricks," said Mr. Sweet. "And if you look at what we showed them versus what we got, there we are. It never occurred to me that the commission would get down to this level of deciding on the color."
Photo by Nelson Sigelman
Brick by brick
Following a marathon review process of more than one year, in December 2006 the Martha's Vineyard Commission approved the hospital building on the current Eastville site in Oak Bluffs.
During the hearing process, the commissioners debated the subject of brick at length, in a permitting process that, at that time, hospital chief executive officer Tim Walsh estimated had cost the hospital approximately $100,000 to complete. Hospital architects Thomas Miller and Associates provided samples of the brick color options, explaining they were limited within the ranges of clay colors, which are shades of red, orange, brown, beige and warm gray.
The costs of the permitting process included various drawings and presentations and a risk assessment study of the site, prepared at the urging of the Martha's Vineyard Commission, that led to the decision to go with an all-brick facade. Mr. Walsh was keen to have a decision before the end of 2006, to avoid escalating building costs.
In issuing a permit for a project like the hospital, designated a development of regional impact (DRI), the Martha's Vineyard Commission is free to add conditions to its approval that can significantly affect a project and add to the developer's costs. The condition can be based on new information or just a notion that occurs to an individual commissioner at the time.
If a majority of commissioners agree, the condition is added to the written decision. The applicant has no opportunity to object or provide any qualifying information.
The conditions added to the hospital's development permit included a requirement that the final design be approved by the Martha's Vineyard Commission. Following the decision, the Martha's Vineyard Commission formed an informal committee of Vineyard architects to advise the hospital's architects and make recommendations to the Martha's Vineyard Commission.
Architect Mark Rowland of Thomas Miller said his firm conducted a very rigorous review of all of the brick buildings on Martha's Vineyard before settling on the Tisbury School as a good blend of characteristics. "That was kind of the benchmark," he said in the choice of brick.
Mr. Rowland said it was his understanding that the Martha's Vineyard Commission had approved the color in concept and only wanted to see the brick before it was installed.
At a meeting on May 31, 2007, the Martha's Vineyard Commission discussed a report from the architects that recommended approval of the hospital design. The commissioners also took the opportunity to again express their personal color preferences.
According to the minutes of the meeting, Linda Sibley of West Tisbury made a motion "that the commission approve the shape and design of the building, except for the color of the brick, which they would like to see."
Following discussion of the motion, Martha's Vineyard Commission chairman Doug Sederholm of Chilmark asked for a vote. He said the motion "is to approve the architectural plan that's been submitted with the caveat that the applicants will come back and show commissioners the brick color, size and mortar."
The commissioners voted to approve the motion.
Early Wednesday, September 17, Mr. London and Martha's Vineyard Commission planner Paul Foley met Mr. Walsh and Connie Bulman, hospital project manager, at the hospital construction site. Although it was expected that some commissioners would be present, Mr. London said scheduling difficulties prevented that.
"We toned it down quite a bit," said Mr. Bulman referring to a brick display wall. "It has a lot of sand in it."
Later that day, Mr. London returned with several commissioners for another look.
Mr. London told The Martha's Vineyard Times, in a telephone conversation following the site visit, that the commissioners who visited the brick display would convene as the Martha's Vineyard Commission's land use planning committee and make a recommendation to the full commission.
Mr. London said that as a professional architect, he takes exception to the view that questions of design are merely subjective. He said many things in life are a matter of subjective opinion, which is why people often rely on professional expertise.
As for the design team, which chose the brick color, their role is to serve the needs of their client, Mr. London said. The commission's role is to serve the need of integrating the project into the community. "The two might be the same or they might be somewhat different at times," he said.
Mr. London said that if the commissioners think the brick color is fine, they would presumably approve it, or if they think they need more expertise, they could seek it. The hospital is on the Martha's Vineyard Commission agenda for 9:30 pm tonight.
Asked if he would make a recommendation, Mr. London said he had not decided yet.
Mr. London said the Martha's Vineyard Commission is not responsible for any delays in bringing the brick up for approval. "We do not monitor their construction schedule," said Mr. London. "We do not know when they ordered or were about to order the brick. If they chose to wait 17 months, you can talk to them about that."
Mr. Sweet said the hospital sent over a rendering this summer that showed the color of the brick that would be used. He said there is a very long lead time required when ordering brick, and in this case the brick was specially ordered to reflect the colors of the brick buildings found on Martha's Vineyard.
Mr. Sweet said any delays would be very costly for the hospital project. "And we are down to a nuance," he said. "It is very subjective, and we have had as many people as we can look at it and come up with their best professional judgment of what we should use to be in concert with the other brick buildings on the Vineyard. It could literally be a million dollar decision to try and change brick color at this point."