Tisbury School chosen for Massachusetts School Building Authority grant

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

The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) announced Wednesday that it will provide planning and funding assistance for a new or renovated Tisbury School.

Tisbury School principal John Custer, school committee chairman Colleen McAndrews, and Martha’s Vineyard Superintendent of Schools Matt D’Andrea traveled to the MSBA board meeting in Boston, attended by local and state officials from across the state, to receive the good news.

“When we left the meeting and walked out of the building, the gravity of the moment hit me,” Mr. Custer told The Times Thursday. “We’ve been working toward this for years. I just felt very proud and thrilled and excited to move forward.”

The Tisbury School was one of eight schools chosen from across the state in the highly competitive process. The MSBA board voted the Tisbury School directly into the “eligibility period,” meaning the process can begin immediately.

“Since I became principal, it’s been very important to me to improve our facilities,” Mr. Custer said. “Just the fact that we were one of eight schools out of 96 voted in yesterday, that alone is cause for celebration, but people will obviously want to know more specifics.”

Mr. Custer said he is already receiving questions about the process moving forward. He said the main questions are: Is it going to be a new school, or a renovation and addition? How much is the project going to cost? How long will the project last?

“The answer to those three big questions is that we don’t know right now, and we likely won’t know for months,” Mr. Custer said.

Initial steps will begin immediately. Mr. Custer said he received a 12-page letter Wednesday night that outlines a checklist of steps the school and town must take prior to the completion of any design plans, or shovels in the ground.

For the next few months, school leaders will be asked to fill out extensive paperwork and meet with town officials to solidify the local commitment to the project. They will receive guidance from the MSBA, which assigns a project manager to each school project.

“We met with her yesterday; she was there, we spoke with her, and already we’ve begun working together,” Mr. Custer said. “She will be with us for the duration, whether it’s two years, three years, five years.”

Mr. Custer said the assistance is as comforting as the promise of MSBA funding. “They hold your hand through the whole process,” he said. “We’re school educators; we don’t know how to build a school.”

Long time coming

School leaders have been anticipating Wednesday’s decision for months. Tisbury School officials applied for the grant in 2014, but the school did not make the cut.

In April 2015, school leaders applied again. The Tisbury School was among the finalists asked to participate in a phone conference with MSBA officials in December. School officials, selectman Melinda Loberg, town administrator Jay Grande, and town treasurer Jon Snyder all participated in the call.

In late December, when the Tisbury School was not among the recipients of a grant rejection letter, the waiting game for school leaders anxiously anticipating confirmation began.

MSBA reimbursement rates vary depending on a formula that takes into account the project and the community. For example, an accelerated repair program provides up to 100 percent reimbursement for smaller projects. In the case of Minuteman Regional High School in Lexington, the MSBA will be reimbursing approximately 32 percent of the overall cost of the new school, or $46.4 million.

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 an upgrade of 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.

All of those needs and more will be addressed through the MSBA process.

“It’s fun to dream, but we’ve got to be patient,” Mr. Custer said. “None of it would even be possible if we weren’t accepted in yesterday. That alone is reason to feel good and optimistic.”