The Tisbury School building committee (TSBC) met Monday to look at schematic choices for the proposed new school building. Superintendent of Schools Matt D’Andrea and Assistant Superintendent Richie Smith joined the committee for the meeting as nonvoting members. The TSBC now has a total of 19 members, including parents, administrators, and town officials, and newest member Harold Chapdelaine, chairman of the William Street Historic District Commission.
Project team members Richard Marks and Christina Opper from Daedalus Projects of Boston and architect Peter Turowski were there to present the building site schematics. The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) approved plans for new construction on August 23, allowing the project team to move forward with plans to construct a new school on the five-acre site of the current school.
Options presented at the meeting placed the school building along various sections of the property, including directly on the site of the current school, which would require demolition of the old building before construction of the new school could begin. That option, however, would be the most costly, and would take the most time to construct because students would have to attend classes in modular buildings while construction takes place. The MSBA does not allow for reimbursement of portable classrooms.
As reported earlier in The Times, the anticipated cost to the town is estimated at approximately $32.3 million, which would eventually require a town vote to approve a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion.
The committee looked at a presentation that included a three-story school, two separate playgrounds for lower and upper grades, athletic fields, an outdoor classroom, a garden, and ample parking options. Two options place the school building along the east side of the property, another places the building in the center of the site, where it is now, and another, which was already eliminated by a vote, placed the building on the west side of the property, where the athletic fields are currently situated.
The committee still has much to consider, with monthly meetings scheduled through the first of the year, at which point it will have decided on a design to submit to the MSBA, along with complete plans of the scope and budget of the project.
Throughout the two-hour meeting, the committee was able to comment on and ask questions about the various schematics. Overall emphasis was placed on causing the least amount of disruption to students while construction is going on, as well as the need to provide adequate academic programming.
There was still some underlying hesitation on the part of the community acceptance of the price tag of a new school, as well as the idea of demolishing the 1930s school building, which included the Island’s high school for decades. Planning board chair Ben Robinson commented at the end of the meeting that he is still hearing from members of the community who question whether new construction is needed.
After the meeting, Mr. Robinson told The Times that the committee wanted new construction from the beginning of the process. And while the project team determined that renovations and additions to the current building would cost more than new construction, he felt there wasn’t adequate exploration of keeping costs down while providing adequate academic programming.
“You’re talking about demolition of a pretty important civic building,” Mr. Robinson said. “It’s wasteful, and what lesson are you giving to children if you tear down buildings and don’t revive them? When we preserve history, we’re better for it.”
He said that the MSBA offers waivers and accommodations for the renovation of buildings, while with new construction, the classrooms and other areas will be built to state guidelines, which may apply more to larger schools, resulting in more space than might be necessary for a school with 315 students, which is projected to decline in numbers over the next few years. He also brought up whether or not the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) would be brought into the process, because Island-wide school choice policies and shared services create regional impacts.
Colleen McAndrews, chair of the TSBC and a member of the Tisbury School committee, said that the committee had already met with the MVC, and plans to keep them abreast of their progress.
“It was an information meeting,” she said, “and they were supportive.”
But, Mrs. McAndrews said, it is important to acknowledge remaining questions or lingering doubts the community might have.
“The reason you’re here is because the questions are lingering,” she said to Mr. Robinson. “We want this to be supported at town meeting, that’s the bottom line. We also have to remember after this project, the town and school need to have a good relationship. Anything we can do so that we can all live with this decision we should do. It’s never too late to answer questions and incorporate concerns.”
Later in an email to The Times, Mrs. McAndrews noted that the decision to build a new school on the same site came after many meetings, public forums, and community surveys.
“I know Ben feels that the educational plan needs to be modified to allow for a smaller building (smaller classrooms, smaller gym, etc.), but the school administration — the superintendent, principal, and school committee and staff — don’t agree with that argument. Remember that this building was constructed in 1929, and education has changed drastically, especially special education. The only change that is being made to the existing educational plan is the addition of one pre-K program that will support our shared services Project Headway program, for which every other elementary school, except Chilmark, houses a program, and many Tisbury students have attended and greatly benefited from these programs,” Mrs. McAndrews wrote.
The next school building committee meeting is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 11. For more information about the project, visit tisbury-school-project.com.