In December, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) set a date of Sept. 1 for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) to complete its community center or face the possibility of refunding all or a portion of two Indian Community Development Block Grants (ICDBG). The deadline has passed with the building still not complete, but HUD has backed off as long as work proceeds to finish the building, once eyed by the tribe as the site of a “boutique casino.”
“The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head is still in the process of completing its community center, which is partially funded with ICDBG funds,” HUD spokesman Rhonda Siciliano said in an email to The Times Friday. “It has spent $1,100,000 in ICDBG funds (two grants) on the building according to the grant stipulations. We are aware that it is waiting for additional town approvals to proceed and is using other funds beyond ICDBG to finish construction.”
She added, “The tribe is not in any violation of the grant at this time. Should the tribe choose not to complete the structure or change the use of the building for purposes other than those for which the grants were provided, it would be subject to corrective or remedial action pursuant to the ICDBG regulations. Such action is currently not under consideration.”
There is evidence that the building, once an open space with exposed wiring, is the focus of recent work. Newly installed sheetrock is evident.
In an email statement dated August 29 in response to an inquiry from The Times, chairman of the Wampanoag Tribe Tobias Vanderhoop said, “We’ve been working with Maurice O’Connor Architect and Aquinnah Associates as contractor in our effort to complete the community center. Our team has made significant progress on the project, and we anticipate a completion in the near future that will meet the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s grant closeout deadlines. We remain in communication with HUD to ensure that they are aware of the status of our community center project.”
Mr. O’Connor declined to comment to The Times on the work at the community center.
Roque W. (Billy) Monteiro of North Dartmouth, a tribal member, and David Peckham of Sagamore Beach are listed as the principals of Aquinnah Associates, according to records on file with the Massachusetts secretary of state.
In an email dated Sept. 2, Aquinnah building inspector Mark Barbadoro said plumbing, wiring, fire, and building rough inspections had been performed at the site, and the walls are approved to be closed in. Mr. Barbadoro said there was “a minor disagreement” regarding whether a standard or voice fire alarm is needed.
“The fire chief and I agree that voice is required, and unless my decision is appealed, that is what I’m expecting to see on the final inspection,” he said.
Over the summer in 2004 and 2005, several teams of Air Force reservists traveled from their bases in the Southern United States and erected the steel-frame, 6,500-square-foot building slated to be a new community center building for the tribe, as part of a civilian engineering project. For years, it sat unfinished and exposed to the elements.
Spurned in its quest for a piece of the mainland gaming pie in favor of the Mashpee Wampanoags, in May 2011 the tribal membership narrowly voted to turn its unfinished community center into a Class 2 gaming facility. A second vote followed in May 2012 that affirmed the earlier vote, but by a narrower margin, in the face of fierce opposition from local residents.
The Patrick administration successfully challenged the tribe’s right to gaming. The tribe is now appealing a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV that the tribe cannot turn the building into a gambling facility. Throughout that battle, the community center languished, even as the tribe held off HUD.
The grant history is one of repeated requests for extensions. In a letter dated Nov. 21, 2012, HUD director Elton Jones approved a request by tribal chairman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais for an extension on a $600,000 grant to Dec. 18, 2013.
In a two-page letter dated Nov. 1, 2013, addressed to HUD director Robert Neal, Ms. Andrews-Maltais said the tribe “humbly requests a grant extension for the Wampanoag Community Center Project. The tribe requests a closeout date of Dec. 18, 2014 — one year after the current closeout date. The tribe had hoped to have the project completed on time but due to unplanned circumstances, it needs extra time to complete the project.”
Those circumstances, according to the tribe, included whether the building would be used for its original purpose, permitting disputes with the town, and scheduling difficulties.
“The Wampanoag people are very excited about the opportunities that this facility will provide for the community, and are greatly appreciative of all of HUD’s assistance in the project,” she said.
One year later, Richard Randolph, vice chairman of the tribe, sent the identical letter addressed to HUD director Mary White, with only the dates changed, requesting an extension to Dec. 18, 2015.
HUD agreed to a six-month extension, to June 18, 2015, which was later extended to Dec. 18, 2015.
In a letter dated Dec. 14, 2015, addressed to HUD administrator Mark Butterfield in the Office of Native American Programs, chairman Tobias Vanderhoop said the tribe “remains committed to completing the community center” but needed additional time and resources to finish construction.
Commenting on the $1.1 in federal money received, Mr. Vanderhoop said, “The majority of those funds has been expended, but despite our best efforts, the building remains unfinished. Several factors led to this current situation, including the unique location of the community center, the expense required to build on the Island and ongoing legal disputes with the town of Aquinnah over the permitting process.”
Mr. Vanderhoop declared the community center “70 percent completed,” and he estimated it would cost approximately $500,000 “to open the doors as a fully functional community center.”
In his response, Mr. Butterfield said the tribe would receive another extension on its 2009 grant for $600,000 to complete the project “for the purpose it was intended,” but he noted, “due to the age of this grant, we can only grant an extension until Sept. 1, 2016.”
Faced with a HUD deadline to repay its grants, eight months ago, on Jan. 24, the tribal council voted 9-2 to finish the the building that sits just off the entrance road to the tribal lands, which was to include a gymnasium, kitchen facilities, and meeting space.