Tisbury Water Works plans for construction of new facility

A newly cut road in the woods that line West Spring Street is the start of the project.

A freshly cut road leads to the site of the new Tisbury Water Works campus, slated for construction. — Photo by Catey McCann

Tisbury Water Works (TWW) has begun work to construct a new office and garage on two acres above the road from its current location overlooking Tashmoo Pond.

At the moment, the project, approved at the annual town meeting in April, consists of just a steep road and cleared trees. At the top of that path is a large, barren piece of land full of tree stumps and piles of branches.

The project will resume in the new fiscal year that begins July 1.

“Right now we’re not doing anything, because last year we budgeted to do the tree work, which we’ve done, and now all the money that was appropriated that night is not available until July 1,” chairman of the Tisbury Water Commission David Schwab said.

“All the money” is $1 million, which TWW borrowed from the town for the project and plans to pay back over five years.

Construction or excavation is not in the immediate plans, because an archaeological survey must be done on the property. According to Mr. Schwab, the property was an ideal wintering site for the Wampanoag tribe due to its proximity to salt and fresh water. As a result, TWW must hire a tribe-approved archaeologist to conduct a survey and look for any signs of settlement. The same survey was necessary when TWW and the spring building had a new septic system put in place on its current property next to Tashmoo spring.

Mr. Schwab said the town purchased the land in 1949. “If something pops up in the archaeological survey, then we would have some decisions to make,” Mr. Schwab said. “But it’s a part of life.”

According to the presentation given by the water commission in April, the new building is necessary because the existing facility is a “size 10 operation in a size 2 shoe.” The current TWW office at Tashmoo spring was built in the 1930s as a small house for the superintendent to live in.

“With the superintendent and his family living there, he could constantly go down and check on the pumping system, because back then it was coal and steam,” Mr. Schwab said. “He could constantly keep the thing up and running and maintain the water pressure to the town.”

But what was once a small family home is now a staff office, operations and management building, public business, and equipment and materials storage facility. Now that direct access to the pond is no longer necessary, TWW is ready to move on from its current site.

The current property slopes downward towards the water and has little room for expansion. A lack of garaging means equipment and parts are stored outside and at remote locations. The current property is also not set up for public use, as it was once a private home. The property has little parking, and no public restrooms. It also impedes access to what has become a popular public destination, Tashmoo spring.

According to the presentation, the commissioners “have evaluated their options off and on for the past 20 years.”

When planning where to build the new facility, TWW considered many properties and screened them based on a list of criteria that included land ownership, parcel size and usable land area, proximity to TWW operations, public accessibility, screening to abutters, and site conditions for development.

The West Spring Street location was chosen because, according to the presentation, it is across the street from the current office, has excellent access for the public, has an excess of 2 acres, has an excellent setback distance of more than 100 feet, and has a vegetative screening from abutters.

But not everyone agreed with that choice. Ralph Packer was a water commissioner for 20 years, and although he was no longer a commissioner when the proposal was made in April, he was a proponent of building on the DPW property.

“They do need a facility, but I’m not sure the location is the proper location,” he said. “I think our town has to centralize, and when one department depends on the other department, they need to be close together.”

According to Mr. Schwab, there wasn’t enough room on the DPW property.

“We went to the DPW commissioners, and we needed roughly two acres, because we need room to expand,” he said. “The facility we’re constructing can serve the water company for the next 50 years, not just the next couple years.”

He said the DPW has plans for its own expansion on that property, and using that land would necessitate “jamming us in there.”

The new TWW facility will feature an office area, parking for staff and the public, inside parts storage in a basement, a garage for equipment storage, and an area for outside material storage. If the project goes as planned, they will be leaving their current property to the town in hopes that Tashmoo spring “becomes open space and a recreational resource for the community,” according to the presentation.

“We’re trying to get out of there because the spring building committee has done such a great job restoring,” Mr. Schwab said. “We think that by getting our equipment out of there, it enhances that whole area.”

He said the area has become “quite a gem of Vineyard Haven” because of the spring building committee’s efforts to restore the old Tashmoo spring water supply building. He said the committee has worked hard over the past four to five years securing grants and funds in order to restore the building. Mr. Schwab said people have expressed interest in holding weddings and functions there, and he believes the presence of the Water Works building impedes that.

“If we move our equipment across the street out of the way, they can tear down that building, they can do whatever they want,” he said. “I think it would be more welcoming to other people.”

“We’re basically a small construction company,” he said. “We have all the equipment there, and people just don’t feel comfortable driving in there. If we move out, clear it all out, and make some parking there, I think the park itself will really take off. It will be much more inviting.”

If all goes as planned, TWW will be out of its current location and moved across the street at some point in 2016, and the only thing they’ll miss is their waterfront view.