Tisbury school awaits decision on state funds for building renovation

Tisbury School representatives are hoping to move forward. – MV Times file photo

Tisbury School Principal John Custer said Tuesday that school administrators are anxiously awaiting a decision by the Massachusetts State Building Association (MSBA) on whether it will receive state funding for building repairs. The application was submitted in April 2015, and typically schools hear back from the MSBA between November and January.

At a selectmen’s meeting Tuesday, selectman Melinda Loberg said the school was among the towns chosen for a phone conference with the organization. Now it’s just a waiting game.

“At this point we’re waiting with our fingers crossed,” Mr. Custer said. “We’ve had some communication with the folks at the MSBA, sort of going over the process, what to expect, when to expect it, so we can prepare ourselves accordingly. We’re hoping it’s a positive response, obviously.”

Mr. Custer went through the same process last year. He said it’s rare for schools to be accepted on the first try.

“I know it’s really competitive,” he said. “Typically about 10 percent of applicants are selected, and in some years it’s anywhere from 150 and 200 applicants into the program.”

If the school is chosen, an article would be introduced at annual town meeting to begin the process of evaluating the status of the building, and renovation options.

Discussions about how to best upgrade the Tisbury School have been ongoing since 2011. The facility, built in 1929, is the oldest elementary school building on the Vineyard and has many pressing needs that include upgrading the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, new windows and insulation, and additional classroom space. The last major addition was constructed in the 1990s, despite an increase in school enrollment numbers. A new roof was installed in the fall of 2014.

In 2012, architect Jorge Cruz of Flansburgh Architects conducted a feasibility study and presented five possible design options for the school, with costs ranging 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 followed the guidelines of the MSBA, which is required if the town wants to seek reimbursement through MSBA-funded grants for capital-improvement projects in state public schools.

If Tisbury’s project is 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.

And if the school is selected for funding, the MSBA acts as a partner with the school throughout the process.

“They guide the process, whether it’s in terms of a new school construction or renovation and addition,” Mr. Custer said. “There’s a lot to work on with architects and engineers and such. They really hold your hand through the process.”

Mr. Custer said they won’t decide on how to proceed with the building, in terms of whether to pursue new construction or a complete renovation and addition, until they hear back from the MSBA.

“The first step would be being accepted by the MSBA and ultimately working with architects to decide what’s the most reasonable outcome,” he said. “And the town would have to support it locally as well.”

If the school is not chosen, however, the decision over how to proceed, whether it’s applying again or pursuing another avenue, will go back to the Tisbury school committee.

“Hopefully we won’t have to find out,” Mr. Custer said. “We’re hoping for MSBA approval, and that’s the preferred route here.”