In Tisbury town administrator John Bugbee's town hall office beneath the Katharine Cornell Theatre, when it rains, it pours - literally. Although Mr. Bugbee is used to handling floods of phone calls from town residents, of late he has been dealing with floods of the wet sort, as well.
"After a recent significant storm, I noticed my front door had a unique twinkle to it," Mr. Bugbee recalled this week. "When I got a closer look, I realized there was water pouring down the front of the closed door. I opened the door, and it was as if I was walking through a waterfall in my office, and so I found a trash can and wedged it between the door and frame to collect the rain so that it didn't damage the rug."
With his office still damp, on Dec. 3 Mr. Bugbee went before the town's nine-member Community Preservation Act (CPA) committee for the second year in a row to request funds to address major preservation work needed at Tisbury's town hall. Although he presented a list of repairs totaling $268,000, Mr. Bugbee requested $200,000 from the CPA committee.
"I prioritized - there are some things that can wait, and there are some things we may not want to do," he explained this week. "I wanted to ask for money that was definitely going to be put towards addressing problems. The Katharine Cornell Theatre building is the cornerstone of Tisbury. It's a beautiful building that should be preserved."
Mr. Bugbee was one of several applicants who brought proposals to the CPA committee asking for a share of the fiscal year 2007 (FY07) CPA funds, which are raised through a three-percent property tax surcharge and matching state funds. The CPA committee held hearings on Dec. 3, 4, and 5 to consider spending requests for projects relating to three community preservation purposes - historic preservation, open space, and affordable housing.
Department of Public Works (DPW) director Fred LaPiana also made a request for $100,000 in CPA funds to be used for renovating Veterans Park. Although there has been some recent controversy regarding whether CPA funds can be used towards parks, Mr. LaPiana said his request falls within the guidelines.
CPA committee chairman Robert Wheeler said this week the committee has about $650,000 available for appropriations in 2008, in response to requests that total about $1.8 million. The committee will vote on Dec. 17 on which projects to fund.
At least 10 percent of the CPA funds must be spent or reserved for later spending for each of the three purposes annually. The remainder may be allocated for any combination of the allowed uses or for land for recreational use.
At town meeting, voters can vote to reduce the amount of money allocated to a project by the CPA committee or vote against funding a project, but they cannot increase the amount for a project or vote to transfer money from one project to another.
Not of one mind
A difference in opinion about how the CPA funds should be spent caused some friction between the committee and the Tisbury selectmen earlier this year. Last January, the CPA committee did not approve Mr. Bugbee's application for funds for town hall. The news came as a surprise to the Tisbury selectmen, who had hoped some of the funds would be used towards town hall's renovation and restoration, since it is one of Tisbury's most valuable historic buildings.
About 12 full-time employees work in town hall, including the town administrator, town clerk, tax collector, assessor, and their staffs, in cramped quarters beneath the Katharine Cornell Theatre in what was formerly a Congregationalist church on Spring Street. Built in 1880, the building is in need of major repairs.
In 2005, Einhorn Yaffe Prescott Architecture and Engineering prepared a report on the town hall building's condition, recommending repairs including stabilization of the steeple, replacement of the boiler and windows, and roof repairs. At the April 2006 annual town meeting, voters approved spending $165,000 towards those repairs.
Over the next several months after town meeting, the Tisbury selectmen discussed the possibility that CPA funds, which would become available for the first time in 2007, might be used towards further preservation work at town hall. However, the CPA committee did not include town hall on its list of approved projects.
The projects selected included design services to create Tashmoo Park, Tisbury Amphitheater rehabilitation, Vineyard Playhouse preservation, and Tashmoo Spring Building preservation. Other appropriations included Dukes County regional housing authority rental conversion program funding and rehabilitation at 118 Franklin St., funding for Island Affordable Housing construction of four units on State Road, and funding for a Habitat for Humanity affordable home on Andrews Road.
The selectmen asked the CPA committee to provide an explanation about how its members made their decisions. At the selectmen's next meeting in February 2007, committee member Ellen O'Brien explained that the committee considered the work at town hall to be maintenance-related, which made it ineligible for CPA funds.
Maintenance versus preservation
When it comes to historic buildings, however, the question of what constitutes maintenance versus renovation or restoration has proven sticky to interpret under the CPA's guidelines. According to the Community Preservation Coalition's web site, as long as renovations are made in a way that protects the historically significant features of a building, for example, bringing it up to code by replacing electric and plumbing, and installing air-conditioning, could be funded with CPA monies. Mowing the lawn, emptying trash barrels, cleaning common areas of a town hall or paying for utilities would be considered maintenance, according to the coalition.
While the CPA defines maintenance as the upkeep of real or personal property, replacing a roof or doing major reconstruction can be framed as preservation if the building is considered historic, the coalition says. Rehabilitation can include mitigating environmental contamination, including mold, and upgrading elevators, ramps, and restrooms for accessibility, which are listed among the town hall building report's recommendations.
At a subsequent selectmen's meeting last spring, Mr. Wheeler said the CPA committee took into account that the building may not be utilized as a town hall much longer and was reluctant to spend large sums of money on its repair, adding that the committee also viewed many of the problems at town hall as the result of deferred maintenance. He recommended bringing the town hall project back to the committee for consideration for the FY09 CPA budget.
Try, try again
Before attending last week's CPA committee hearing, Mr. Bugbee said, "I went back and read the language in the law itself, and the language in the law says that preservation is meant to mean anything that can cause destruction - everything I asked for funding for are items that if they go unattended, will lead to the destruction or further deterioration of town hall."
Mr. Bugbee said that he thinks some of the confusion lies in whether the DPW should be doing some of the work, which, although considered maintenance by some, is actually preservation. However, he pointed out, "The DPW does not do historic preservation work, and further, if you ask them to do that work, it could cost the town more money if it's not done correctly, and we don't want to do that."
When asked about the DPW's role, Mr. LaPiana agreed. "We are general tradesmen here. By and large, the intent is to take care of the large pieces that need to be done by contracting a professional trained in historical preservation." Mr. Wheeler said that the CPA committee does have a clear understanding of the difference between preservation work and maintenance that can be done by the DPW.
"We on the CPA committee tend to look at this money as funds that give an additional element towards things we can do with tax money - the extras people want to see happen, but there isn't necessarily any good forum for raising the issues about spending the money for them," Mr. Wheeler said.
Mr. Bugbee, on the other hand, feels that the town has stepped up to the plate enough. "It's time to share the burden with money that should be used for this specific purpose - times are tough in terms of funding," he said. "A lot of people are looking at that money as their golden nugget. Shouldn't we be spending money on projects we need?"
The CPA committee plans to hold a public meeting at 5 pm on Dec. 17 at the Tisbury Senior Center to vote on which projects to fund, in order to get a warrant article to the town by Jan. 2.