Martha’s Vineyard Museum wins state grant, groundbreaking planned

A rendering of what the Martha's Vineyard Museum is expected to look like once renovations are complete. A groundbreaking is scheduled Saturday, May 27.

The Martha’s Vineyard Museum is one giant approval step and now a $225,000 state grant toward building its new facility in Tisbury.

On Thursday, the museum announced it had received the funds from the state and scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony for Saturday, May 27, at the former Marine Hospital/St. Pierre School of Sport.

“We’ve got a lot rocking. This grant came at a perfect time,” Phil Wallis, the museum’s executive director said. “Groundbreaking and, oh, by the way, the largest award in Commonwealth to the museum. Wow. I don’t think we could have orchestrated it this way.”

And it all follows the museum getting its biggest approval two weeks ago from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for the $24 million project. On Thursday night, the commission unanimously approved the written decision.

The May 27 groundbreaking will kick off the first phase of construction, which consists of the complete renovation and restoration of the three-story, 1895 building. A pavilion is also being constructed for the 1854 Fresnel lens, originally used in the Gay Head Lighthouse.

The building will include a small cafe, a multisensory room for children, an outbuilding to store vehicles and vessels and inside the building there will be exhibit spaces, classrooms, a research library and a gift show.

The $225,000 grant was announced by Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday. The funds are coming through MassDevelopment, which administers the Cultural Facilities Fund along with the Massachusetts Cultural Council

The museum, which is currently located in Edgartown, purchased the former hospital in the fall of 2011 with an eye toward providing greater public access, more public programming and the ability to preserve collections. The groundbreaking follows years of planning and fundraising, which also included a $500,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and support Island-wide from community preservation funds.

Two weeks ago, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission gave its final blessing to the museum plans with an official read-through and sign off of that written decision Thursday night.

“This grant is a wonderful endorsement at the perfect time as we move ahead with the next stage of the project, and put a shovel in the ground,” said Museum Executive Director Phil Wallis. “It is encouraging to have the Massachusetts Cultural Council reconfirm their belief in a community project they helped design.” The Museum received a $191,000 planning grant through the Cultural Facilities Fund in 2013.

The museum’s grant was one of 131 received for the fund, according to MassDevelopment, which issued 61 grants for a total of $8.9 million. The museum project got one of the top grants, which ranged from $7,000 to $225,000.

The museum still has town permits to get before actual construction can begin, Mr. Wallis said. There is also the matter of getting the additional funds necessary. The museum has commitments for $15 million of the necessary funds, so the effort to raise $9 million continues, he said.

“We are pursuing donor support through the summer,” he said. “We are actively seeking support to close that gap.”

Construction is expected to take about 18 months and won’t start in earnest until the end of the busy summer season, Mr. Wallis said.

Museum officials also want to make it clear that this is not an abandonment of Edgartown, the museum’s home for nearly a century.

“This is about creating a cultural center for this Island, which we all love for many different reasons,” Mr. Wallis said. “We are looking to create spokes from the hub and Edgartown is one of them. We will look to protect that asset as much as we can moving forward.”

The public is invited to the groundbreaking ceremony at 12 noon on Saturday at 151 Lagoon Road. The event will take place rain or shine.