Reject a false choice


To the Editor:

Who in their right mind would choose to tear down the existing Tisbury School, which now sits at the crest of the hill on West William Street, and instead stick a new one into the children’s east-side play area — at the lowest elevation on the property — and then move the existing parking lot to the very crest, where the old school building used to stand, and in the process, separate the remaining west-side play area (the one on the other side of the hill) from the new building? But in fact, that’s exactly what the Tisbury School Building Committee has decided to do.

To be fair, the committee was simply following the jaw-dropping advice of their consultants who seem to have reduced everyone’s options to a short list of bad choices (although the committee’s resistance to temporary classroom facilities seems to be a major factor).

This decision runs contrary to what surveys and testimony from town citizens and officials have all said they want — which is to renovate and possibly expand on the existing building. It’s going to be difficult to get two-thirds of a town meeting to agree to spend millions of dollars on something that they have already said they don’t want.  

It is also a really bad idea (see above).

We are no longer looking at a large-scale comparison of many different sites and locations. We are now comparing just two options within a single piece of property — one that already has an existing building on it, the Tisbury School, no less. Before we tear down this building, we should look a little closer at what we are doing. Is this really necessary? What are our options?

It would appear that the consultants would have the building committee rely on the original schematic diagrams, which lack the kind of detailed information the committee needs to make this very consequential decision. Moreover, the renovation/expansion scheme produced by the consultants seems to include a great number of questionable assumptions and missed opportunities, so it’s hard to fault the committee for not being particularly thrilled by it.

More to the point, this debate sets up what is essentially a false choice. We don’t have to abandon the old school in order to build a new one. A new school can evolve naturally out of the old one, incorporating its positive qualities along the way. In the process, the old school/new school dichotomy falls away and we have something much better, a new school that retains the wisdom and logic of the original West William building, but one that expands on it to incorporate the new ideas and opportunities that the educators are trying to introduce.

With a little luck, we may also manage to create something really beautiful — a warm, welcoming, safe, and accessible new landmark for the neighborhood and the town.

Henry Stephenson
Vineyard Haven

Mr. Stephenson is a former member and co-chair of the Tisbury planning board. —Ed.