West Tisbury highway department building needs major fixup

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Photo by Susie Safford

West Tisbury selectmen learned last week that the town public works building on Old Courthouse Road in North Tisbury may be too far out of date to be a suitable candidate for renovation and might best be replaced.  Once used for town meetings and later as a fire station, the mid-19th century building is now used primarily as a garage for highway department equipment.

At the Wednesday, December 10, selectmen’s meeting, highway superintendent Richard Olsen explained the situation. “My intent was to redo the building, if that was possible” he said. “We weren’t looking for a whole lot, but I think from what Joe [building inspector Joe Tierney] has told me, in order to bring it into compliance [with the building codes] it’s probably better to build a new building, at the same location.”

In April, the town appropriated $10,000 for needed repairs to the building. A major rebuilding project would be subject to a capital improvement committee feasibility study before any more money would be committed.

Mr. Olsen said the logical location for a new highway department would be on the grounds of the new police and fire stations on State Road but “there are too many variables at that site.” He said a new building would require a new septic system for which there is no room.

“I think we are stuck where we are. Which is fine,” he said. “In order to bring this up to code there is so much to do, the windows, the insulation. Regardless of what we do we need a new well and a septic system.” He said that his department could use more room so that an addition might be in order.

Mr. Tierney said he consulted with West Tisbury civil engineer Kent Healy on the condition of the building. “There are a lot of structural issues with the building from the foundation to the second floor,” Mr. Tierney said. “So the amount of money we would have to dump into it and the fact that it may not meet his [Mr. Olsen’s] needs when we got done. That’s why we were searching for other locations.”

Mr. Tierney said he thought it would be a better investment for the town to build a new building either on the present site or on a new site.

Selectman Richard Knabel asked if there were any hard numbers to accompany the various alternatives.

Mr. Tierney said that he and Mr. Olsen, wanted to speak to the selectmen and seek some direction before they proceeded further.

Town administrator Jennifer Rand said that the deed on the land is not clear and should be cleared before any work is done on the land to be certain there are no deed restrictions. “I may need to spend some money on a title search,” she said. “What we have found to date would make us believe that there are probably no restrictions.”

Mr. Healy said it is a small site but there is room for a septic system and a new well. “The building is really of limited value,” he said. “The best way to replace it would be a new concrete slab and put a new building on top of it.” He said that he thought a new metal building might be the most economical way to deal with the situation.

Mr. Knabel asked whether the building has any historic significance.

Ms. Rand said she would investigate the history as well as the title and restrictions issues. Mr. Healy volunteered to get prices for replacing the building and installing a new well and septic system.

Rich history

Prior to its use to store highway department equipment, the parks and recreation department used the building for equipment storage. It was also where town residents went to purchase town beach stickers in the summer. The sign on the front of the building still reads West Tisbury, Parks and Recreation Committee, Community Hall.

Mr. Knabel told The Times in an email the building was formerly called “Association Hall.” The owner of record in 1884 was the Vineyard Literary Association.

Former selectman and county commissioner John Alley, a lifelong resident of West Tisbury, told The Times that he remembers when town meetings were held in the building. “There were rows of benches, a stage and a ballot box,” he said. In 1959 when town meetings were held in the Grange Hall, then called the Agricultural Hall, the town voted to turn the building into fire station number two. It was at that time that the old wooden floor was replaced with a concrete slab and the front was replaced with two large garage doors.

“The building was never a courthouse,” he said. “The road is named ‘Old Courthouse Road’ because it once went all the way to the present intersection of Scotchmans Lane and Old County Road and on to the current intersection of Old County and the West Tisbury-Edgartown Road where there was a courthouse.”

Ag Hall events under review

In other town business last Wednesday, Mr. Tierney told selectmen that after reviewing events held at the Agricultural Hall at their request, he found most were in compliance with town zoning regulations. “For the most part this year the activities have been mostly compliant. There are a lot of grey areas.”

Mr. Tierney said he and outgoing building and zoning inspector Ernest Mendenhall recommend that selectmen require an event permit for events at the Ag Hall. He suggested the permit application be submitted four weeks prior to an event so that he could determine, with advice from counsel when necessary, whether the grey area events met the zoning regulations.

“Ninety percent of the events will probably not be a problem,” Mr. Tierney said. He said the four-week lead-time would give the town time to make a determination.

Ms. Rand said, “Many of the things that go on at the Ag Hall do not currently get an event permit; and have never had an event permit.”

Selectman chairman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter said that the event permit interpretations would pertain to zoning regulations only and not to deed restricted activities.

The Vineyard Conservation Society and the town jointly hold an agricultural preservation restriction over the property that limits use of the property to the “full-range” of nonprofit and educational activities the Ag Society “has historically pursued,” as well as limited commercial activities that “relate directly to the nonprofit and educational function of MVAS.

The selectmen agreed to consider the permit suggestion when they discuss the definition of events requiring an event permit at a future meeting.

Fenced in

Also last week, selectmen discussed the town cemetery fence. The one bid received in June in response to a request for proposal (RFP) to rebuild the cemetery fence exceeded the $75,000 approved at April town meeting for the entire fence. The bid price ranged from $83,520 to $92,470 depending on options offered by the bidder, Landmark Fence of Eastham.

Mr. Manter suggested that the community preservation commission be asked to rewrite the RFP to allow for work to a portion of the fence for the $75,000. Mr. Knabel and selectman Cynthia Mitchell agreed with the suggestion but noted that the change will require a vote at town meeting.

Selectmen voted to go into executive session to discuss the possible acquisition of a triangular piece of land at the intersection of Indian Hill and State Road. Mr. Manter would not say what the selectmen had discussed as uses of the land.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that selectmen learned of the fence bid on December 10. Selectmen have been aware of the bid amount since June.