Tisbury School design options range from $43 to $45 million

— File photo by Tim Johnson

Architect Jorge Cruz of Flansburgh Architects wrapped up a feasibility study his firm conducted for Tisbury School with a presentation Tuesday on estimated budgets for five possible design options. The costs range from $43.1 million for construction of a new building at a different site to $45.6 million for renovation and expansion of the existing building on Spring Street.

The designs follow the guidelines of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), which is required if the town wants to seek reimbursement for a school building project through grants funded by the MSBA for capital improvement projects in state public schools.

If Tisbury’s project were accepted, the reimbursement rates for MSBA-approved, eligible school construction and renovation projects range from 31 to 80 percent. The rates are based on a formula adjusted for a community’s socioeconomic factors and incentive points for factors such as energy efficiency and renovation and reuse of an existing facility.

“You’re in a good position to be above 50 percent on reimbursement,” Mr. Cruz told about 25 people who attended the workshop in the school’s library. Among them were superintendent of schools James Weiss, selectmen Tristan Israel and Jeff Kristal, Tisbury school staff, school advisory council (SAC) and building committee representatives, and members of the town’s Planning Board.

Voters at town meeting last spring approved spending $40,000 to fund the feasibility study. The Tisbury School Committee awarded a contract in late August to Flansburgh Associates, one of five architectural firms that submitted bids. The company sent in teams of engineering experts to assess the school building’s condition before students returned from summer vacation.

The school has many pressing needs, from a new roof, windows and insulation, to additional classroom space. Special education students are currently housed in a trailer outside the building. Also, Tisbury School principal John Custer said, there is no extra space for a third section of first graders planned for next year to handle an influx of kindergartners this year.

Mr. Cruz and his associate, Duncan McClelland, held an initial workshop in September with the school staff to discuss their findings and the school’s goals and vision for the future. Based on those discussions, the architects presented six design options at a workshop in October, attended by parents, school staff, members of the school advisory council and building committee, and representatives from the town’s Planning Board and building and zoning department. They requested that the architects come back with budgets for five of them.

Design details

Using the MSBA guidelines, and a future enrollment of 386 students based on projections from the New England School Development Council (NESDEC), the architects’ designs are for an 87,000-square-foot building, which is 36,000 square feet more than the existing facility.

The design options include an additional computer room, bigger classrooms that measure 900 square feet, and a larger gym, as well as a minimum of 100 parking spaces.

A third-party independent cost estimator, PM&C, came up with the main construction cost summaries and project cost breakdowns for each design option. All of them include probable costs of construction, whether for renovations and additions or new construction, contingency fees, design and management fees for a design team and owner’s project manager, and additional project costs — for example, surveying, legal costs, and security consultants. The cost of furniture and equipment also is included, at the MSBA rate of $1,200 per student, and computer and technology equipment at the same rate.

Three of the architect’s new design options would utilize the present school site. Two of them would have additions constructed on both ends of the school.

Option one is to renovate the entire building, take the existing gym and use it for a cafeteria and kitchen, add a new gym on the east side, and add classroom space on the west side, for a total project cost of $44,339,400. Option two is to renovate the school, add classroom space, demolish the existing gym, and create another two-story space with a cafeteria and gym addition, for a cost of $45,627,800. Option three is to build a new school building to the east of the site on the playing field, redevelop the existing site, and demolish the old school building, at a cost of $44,792,200.

The two other design options feature a new school building on alternate sites on town-owned land. Option five-A would utilize about 8 of 15 acres on a parcel near the Tashmoo well, where a new two-story school building, baseball field, basketball court and playgrounds would be built at a cost of $43,187,400. Option six would include the same two-story school building design, a basketball court, and playground, on 10 of 25 acres on a parcel near the Manter well, at a cost of $43,104,300.

“What we need to understand here with all these numbers is that if you’re looking at renovating the school just as is, that’s 51,000 square feet,” Mr. Cruz said. “Currently, renovating on the Island costs about $400 a square foot. So you’re looking at $20 million if you did nothing at all but renovate as is, and you haven’t met any of your educational needs and are not getting reimbursed by the state. If you look at it in that context, if you take on a $45 million project, you get exactly what you want. You meet all of your educational guidelines and goals, and you’re looking at spending $22.5 million, if you get at least a 50 percent reimbursement.”

What’s next?

Discussion about the school design options touched on concerns about the cost, tax impact, the community’s reaction, and the relationship of the school project to the rest of the town’s future planning efforts.

In answer to Mr. Kristal’s questions, Mr. Cruz said the town’s next step is to fill out a statement of interest. With 114 submittals already on file, he estimated it might take two years for Tisbury School to make the project list.

If selected, the MSBA would invite Tisbury to do a feasibility study, which would require voters to approve spending about $600,000 to get the study and a schematic design completed for its preferred design option.

“The MSBA will also negotiate with you on what the enrollment projection will be,” Mr. Cruz said. “Once you’re invited and go through that process, which involves about four or five months, MSBA will come up with what they call the project funding agreement. It will tell you what your project costs are and what your reimbursement is, and at that point you have one 120 days to approve the rest of the funds at town meeting.”

Mr. Israel suggested that Tisbury should plug in some of the design option budget numbers to see how they would impact the town’s budget and taxes.

Mr. Cruz cautioned against doing that yet. “You need to do a statement of interest first; some of the numbers can change,” he said. “Once you finish the MSBA study, you’ll have a true number that they’re going to fund, and then you can go and see what the impact is. You put that on the street now, too early, without knowing the exact design, the exact location, and the exact cost, it may hurt you if you’re trying to pass a budget.”

Questions and concerns

John Packer, a member of the building committee, suggested that the Tisbury School project should be viewed in context of town-wide planning, given the continuing discussion about the need for a new town hall. “If we build a new school, what do we do with this building?” he asked.

Mr. Israel suggested forming a committee that would include representatives from the community, school committee, building committee, selectmen and planning board, to discuss the issues in more detail.

“I hope if we move away from here, this won’t just be mowed down,” SAC member Wiet Bacheller said. “Community Services is looking for a home for their family center. We could present it to the town that this building is still usable and maybe would generate some income.”

“It all sounds good, but the way this town treats its older buildings that we’ve left to go to new locations, we don’t have a good track record,” Mr. Kristal said. “This is a behemoth for a nonprofit to support.”

School committee member Colleen McAndrews said another difficult factor is town sentiment about the building. “I believe there may possibly be a contingent of people who would not want this building to no longer exist anymore,” she said.

Mr. Kristal was of the opinion that it’s not the building that is important. “The assets here are the students and teachers and land.”

Rita Jeffers, a Tisbury School kindergarten teacher for 16 years, agreed. “I think we have to be realistic about the building,” she said. “We can recreate the experience here somewhere else. We should be careful about being so nostalgic about this building. What started all this two or three years ago was concern about its safety.”

In an email in response to one from The Times yesterday, Mr. Custer said the School Committee would now review the complete building needs study report, as well as the design options.

“This information will be helpful in completing and submitting a statement of interest,” Mr. Custer said. “The School Committee meets next Tuesday to discuss its next steps, including further efforts to solicit input and offer information to the citizens of Tisbury.”

The draft feasibility study is available at mvtimes.com.