Officials appear to be hedging on Tisbury School project

Proposal is before MSBA, but selectmen are still casting doubt.

The building committee has picked a three-story standalone school, but there are questions about whether the town will support it with a tax increase. — Courtesy Tisbury School

Updated 3:10 pm

The Tisbury School building project is in the hands of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) with the blessing of town leaders, but there’s evidence that support for the project back home isn’t ironclad.

Before a selectmen’s meeting Tuesday at about 4:45 pm, school and town officials, were huddled in an animated conversation about the project.

“It was a private meeting that wasn’t meant for the public to be part of,” Colleen McAndrews, chairman of the school building committee and a member of the school committee, said of the session before the board of selectmen’s meeting. The building committee is planning to have a meeting next week, which has not yet been scheduled, she said. “We’re making sure we’re being very thorough in the process.”

Ever since the building committee voted in a split decision to move forward with a new three-story school, members of the board of selectmen have raised doubts about whether taxpayers will support the Proposition 2½ debt exclusion necessary to fund the project.

During the actual meeting Tuesday, Richard Marks, president of Aedaulus, the project manager, and Peter Turowski of t2 Architecture, provided the board an updated presentation on the project, including a new, lower price tag of $32.3 million, a $700,000 savings, because MSBA is reimbursing slightly more for the project. If approved, the project would increase property taxes for a home valued at $800,000 by $800 per year, Mr. Marks said.

Selectman Tristan Israel pointed out that increase in tax hike would be difficult for working people to absorb. He said he hoped the building committee would look at all opportunities for savings. “We don’t want to skimp for our kids, but we want to do what’s best for our townspeople,” he said.

The $800 per year is a big number, Mr. Marks said, but discussion about renovating the existing building and adding onto it, something that appears to have gained momentum after last month’s votes, would cost about $3 million more because it requires the town to rent portable classrooms to house students during construction.

The project managers will do what they can to reduce the overall price, he told selectmen, but there is only so much that can be cut out of the project.

“We do believe there are some places to cut costs,” Mr. Marks said. “We will certainly do all we can to reduce costs on taxpayers.”

The project is scheduled to go to a subcommittee of the MSBA on July 21, and then before the full MSBA board for consideration on Aug. 23. The final project would go before MSBA in November to be in time for consideration by Tisbury voters next April.

Once approved by the town, Mr. Turowski said, the project would take 29 months for construction and would open in the fall of 2021.