Officials consider use for old Edgartown School
At the annual Edgartown town meeting two weeks ago, James Cisek, co-chairman of the Old Edgartown School Re-use Committee (OESRC), presented a tentative plan to convert the former schoolhouse to affordable apartments for use by municipal employees and the elderly. Mr. Cisek told The Times that the committee is still at the conceptual stage of its work. There are at present no architectural designs for the public to consider.
The old school building is next door to the new Edgartown School, formerly connected to the school gym by a vestibule, which has been removed.
Mr. Cisek said that the committee is considering seven to nine apartments on the second floor, with use limited to town employees. It would be extraordinarily convenient for teachers at the school, who would have a short walk to work, and housing would also be available for police, firemen, or town hall staff. However, if state or federal financing is involved, which seems likely, the town's ability to restrict tenants (to municipal employees, for example) is severely limited. The apartments would each be 700 to 900 square feet, and there would be an elevator to make the apartments handicap-accessible.
The OESRC envisions six or seven apartments for the elderly on the first floor, also 700 to 900 square feet each. The old school cafeteria could be converted to a community room with kitchen facilities for catering. Forming a campus with the new school, the building could draw together several aspects of town life. Yarmouthport architect Curt Raber is working with the committee.
Mr. Cisek said that the OESRC had at first considered moving the Island-wide senior day center, now overcrowded at the Anchors on Dock Street, to the old school building. Edgartown voters appropriated $35,000 to the Council on Aging for a study of just such a plan. But in about the same time-frame (2009), the proposed YMCA of Martha's Vineyard will have facilities for senior activities at its more central location near the high school. Last March the Council on Aging rejected the old Edgartown School as a location for the expanded senior day center, and the OESRC is now focused on other uses for the old school building, Mr. Cisek explained.
How would such a project be financed? Mr. Cisek replied that there is more than one possibility, but at the moment plans do not include asking taxpayers to underwrite the construction costs. One possibility is to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to developers with experience in affordable housing. The RFP would offer a developer the building in return for regulated rents for a period of time, perhaps 30 or 40 years.
Selectman Arthur Smadbeck told The Times, "I would love to see it taken over by a developer so that it didn't cost the town any money, and the town acquired a valuable asset."
Edgartown followed this route with its Pennywise Path project, and last fall the Edgartown selectmen signed a 99-year lease with The Community Builders Inc., a non-profit housing developer based in Boston which the town chose to build and manage the 60-home subdivision. Work will begin soon.
Another possibility is to apply for grants, as Island Elderly Housing (IEH) has successfully done in operating more than 150 apartments at several locations at no cost to local taxpayers. Mr. Cisek told The Times that the next steps include meeting with the Edgartown affordable housing committee, with the DCRHA, and probably also with IEH director Carol Lashnits. The committee will soon hold public meetings to solicit ideas and reactions.