Selectmen unanimous for another engineering study on Island Theater

After executive session with legal counsel, the board asks for cost estimate to make the structure safe.

Oak Bluffs building inspector Mark Barbadoro emphasizes the poor condition of the Island Theater at this week's board of selectmen meeting. —Barry Stringfellow

There was yet another plot twist in the long-running saga of Island Theater at Tuesday night’s Oak Bluffs selectmen’s meeting, when the board unanimously voted 5-0 to enlist building inspector Mark Barbadoro to hire an engineer, posthaste, to determine what it will cost to make the Island Theater “safe.”

The selectmen’s vote on Tuesday, Dec. 13, came after a 25-minute executive session with attorney Michael Goldsmith toward the end of their two-and-a-half-hour meeting.

Mr. Barbadoro initially asked selectmen to vote to hold a special town meeting before April to see if taxpayers will vote to fund the building demolition: “I’ve been told by the town administrator that we need to go to town meeting to get the money to demolish it,” Mr. Barbadoro said.

Town meeting will be held on April 11, 2017. “[April] would not leave enough time to make the building safe by the summer,” he said. “I’m not comfortable with another summer leaving the building unfixed. I’ve been in contact with Department of Public Safety, and they are also very concerned.”

The theater was declared “dangerous” in a unanimous 3-0 vote by a board of survey on Dec. 2. That vote gave Mr. Barbadoro the legal authority to order the building demolished. It also gave the town the authority to put a lien on the property to cover the cost of the demolition, as well as to levy significant financial penalties.

The board of survey findings are posted on the Oak Bluffs building department webpage.

As he has done at several previous selectmen’s meetings, Mr. Barbadoro gave the board a grim assessment. He said there are cracks between the concrete walls and the pilasters that support them that allow daylight to stream in from the outside. “It’s hard to tell what’s wrong from the exterior, and you think, ‘How could it possibly be dangerous?’ But when you’re inside, you want to be outside the building,” he said. “I hired a very competent engineer from off-Island, and it’s his opinion that the building is in danger of collapsing. You don’t have to hire an engineer to see that there are serious problems here.”

Selectman Kathy Burton suggested it was worth spending money to find out what it would cost to make the building safe. Selectman Greg Coogan agreed.

Civil and structural engineering consultant John Lolley was present at Tuesday night’s meeting, and he was pressed into service.

Chairman Gail Barmakian asked Mr. Lolley how long it would take his company to come up with an estimate of repairs to make the building safe.

He estimated three weeks.

Town administrator Robert Whritenour endorsed the idea.

“I think Mr. Lolley is eminently qualified to assist in an emergency basis like this,” he said. “Let’s be clear about this. We have a piece of private property that is owned by a member of the public. The responsibility for the permanent restoration rests with the property owner. They have been ordered to make that building safe and have failed to do so. The town’s goal now is to make the building safe … At this juncture, it cannot sit in its current status.”

Mr. Lolley inspected the building in 2014 at the request of former building inspector James Dunn, and he expressed serious concerns about the structural integrity of the building at that time. “I think it’s dangerous enough that it if it’s not demolished, it should be addressed structurally in a significant way,” he said in a previous conversation with The Times. “In my opinion, that building was never sound to begin with.”

Mr. Lolley was equally frank with selectmen on Tuesday night.

“There’s been a lot of comment that the building has been standing for 100 years,” he said. “When it was built, they didn’t use the regular cement mortar they use now. They used lime mortar. Cement mortar gets harder with age. Lime mortar doesn’t. Lime mortar deteriorates. The building is coming apart a little bit every day … There’s no way in hell it’s going to be worth trying to stick this thing back together.”

“I think we’d like the report,” Ms. Barmakian said.

Anger over appointment process

In other business, selectmen abruptly changed gears in choosing their appointee to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) after receiving a last-minute letter from long-time representative John Breckenridge, stating he was withdrawing from consideration due to health reasons.

At their Nov. 29 meeting, selectmen decided to delay their selection until all three candidates — Mr. Breckenridge, Susan Desmarais, and Abe Seiman — could be present at their next meeting. They also agreed that candidates would only be appointed if they were present at the meeting.

Ms. Desmarais was the only candidate in attendance at the Nov. 29 meeting, and she was the only candidate present Tuesday night.

Although her selection appeared to be a formality, selectman Michael Santoro said he felt the appointment should be kept open. “I think it should be advertised, and we should give other people the opportunity to move forward,” he said.

Selectman Walter Vail agreed. “I think it would do well to open it up,” he said. “I might have said differently if John had stayed a candidate, but now that he’s gone I’d like to see us advertise … This is an important position. I’d like to see other Oak Bluffs residents step forward.”

Ms. Barmakian initially disagreed. “I think it’s somewhat unfair at this point,” she said. “To honor the will of the voter, and since this process has been going on since November, I think we should appoint Susan.”

Nine MVC commissioners are elected by Vineyard voters Island-wide in elections held every two years. Six are appointed on an annual basis by each town board of selectmen. In this November’s election, Ms. Desmarais ran for an elected seat on the MVC and received 923 votes from Oak Bluffs voters, and 3,206 total votes, 1,064 more votes than Mr. Breckenridge, whom selectmen indicated Tuesday night was their likely appointee.

“This is our appointee, the person we feel represents us,” Mr. Coogan said. “John was a comfortable candidate. It’s never been about votes. It’s about who this board is comfortable with.”

After a 15-minute discussion, Ms. Barmakian said a vote was not necessary because the consensus on the board was clear, although she didn’t agree with the action.

Ms. Desmarais had sharp words for the board.

“What I’m hearing is that you’ve never done this in the past, and you’re going to do it now, and that the will of the voters is not important … This feels to me like the politics of Tammany Hall. It absolutely is shameful. If you’re going to postpone this, I don’t want anything to do with it. I’m done. I voted for each of you; I won’t vote for any of you again.”

Planning board chairman Brian Packish backed Ms. Desmarais. “You say it’s not about the vote, but I voted for every one of you because I thought you would represent me,” he said. “Susan put up many more votes than John. At the end of the day you represent me, which is the 900-plus votes Susan got in Oak Bluffs.”

Word of the opening got out quickly. At the conclusion of the discussion, attendee David Wallace informed selectmen that he’d received a text from Oak Bluffs school committee member Lisa Regan, and she wanted to schedule an interview.