Nostalgia. We all succumb to it at times, returning to a familiar place because it’s comforting, like an old friend.
It may be a way to pick a location for a family vacation or a good meal, but it’s no way to select a school site.
As Tisbury leaders move toward making a decision on how to move forward with the Tisbury School — a vote expected on Wednesday, June 7, by the school building committee — we hope all the talk we hear about the nostalgic feel of the Spring Street location will be eclipsed by the logical choice of a fresh start on the Manter well site.
We understand concerns have been raised that the Manter well site, located on Holmes Hole Road, is too far from the town center. But that’s a weak argument in an age when most students arrive at school by car or school bus. So let’s take that out of the equation.
Price isn’t a real factor either. There are four options on the table, and the price range to local taxpayers on the three viable choices is too little to be a difference maker. The fourth option, to do base repairs to the existing school for $19.8 million, would be akin to throwing money away.
In all cases, the Massachusetts School Building Authority has agreed to reimburse 41.26 percent of the construction costs.
Back to the three legitimate options:
- Renovate and add on to the existing school for $48.1 million, or an estimated $33.1 million for taxpayers. School officials need to look no further than Falmouth to see that renovating an existing and in-use school is a disaster. The Falmouth High School project came in $19 million over budget, imposed serious disruptions on education, and produced a project that left taxpayers longing for a do-over. There were issues with the design and construction, but it didn’t help that the starting point was an existing school building that still had to be used for public education every day.
- A new school on the existing property would cost $42 million, or an estimated $32.9 million after state reimbursement, again a negligible difference in overall cost. This would be a better option, though it would mean tearing down the existing building and, even though it’s self-contained, is likely to cause disruptions to education because of the proximity of the construction. The town would also be losing a historic building, and an opportunity in the process.
- The Manter well site would cost $46.3 million, with an overall taxpayer cost of $32.3 million. It’s a cheaper alternative by a few hundred thousand, but it’s not a big enough price difference to make it a slam-dunk. But it does move construction away from the existing building, and provides opportunity to get creative with the 1929 building once students and staff move out.
It’s the possibility of what could be done with the old Tisbury School that makes selection of the Manter well site exciting. It could be used for housing for year-round Islanders, young families starting lives here, and older Islanders needing manageable apartments and homes (and freeing up larger ones in the process).
In the recent Island elections, all six towns voted for a nonbinding referendum to set up a regional housing bank — an outcome that shows the electorate understands the urgent need for all types of housing on Martha’s Vineyard. One of the glaring needs is for safe, affordable housing for Island workers. This location has the potential to provide a substantial number of apartments in a location easily accessible to one of the Island’s commercial centers and services.
The Spring Street location is big enough to offer large-scale construction, infrastructure, and financing efficiencies, and should attract private partners willing to do the work. As our neighbors on the Cape have shown, there are creative ways to reuse old school buildings. A 94-year-old school building in Yarmouth was turned into 65 apartments for residents 55 and older. Of those, 58 are rented at affordable rents, while the remaining seven residents pay market rates. Bourne, similarly, has turned the former Coady School into 58 units of senior housing.
The projects have been heralded as successes in that they provide much-needed housing for the Cape’s aging population to remain on the peninsula.
Voting for renovation and an addition at the present Tisbury School location may be a feel-good vote, but it would be a short-term, shortsighted solution.
By making the bold move to have a new school built at the Manter well site, the town would be looking at a long-term solution that would provide room to grow and room for much-needed playing fields, as well. It would put that valuable town resource in an area that would not exacerbate traffic in a residential neighborhood. And the town will avoid the headaches that almost always accompany a project that includes renovation to an existing building (see Falmouth). Factor in the age of the Tisbury School, and the town is just asking for problems that could end up driving up the cost.
The town’s leadership has an opportunity to seize the moment and address large-scale, long-term community challenges by building a brand-new school at the Manter well location and adding to the town’s housing stock. It’s the proverbial win-win.