Tisbury residents debated Monday night about whether the town needs to build a new three-story school, or whether renovation of the stately 80-year-old structure is the best course of action.
About 75 residents filled the cozy Tisbury School gym for a public comment meeting called by the Tisbury School Building Committee to review early design plans for a new structure, but the mannerly two-hour discussion centered on the pros and cons of building versus renovating the school, even though the building committee has voted and committed to build new.
Current estimates are that completing a new school will cost $47.5 million. The town is on track to qualify for state funds from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) totaling 41.26 percent of costs. Current estimates are that building a new school would cost $3 million less than a renovation plan that meets state requirements. The MSBA has approved the feasibility and thematic design phases of the project, resulting in the site plans made public on Monday night.
School Building Committee chairman Colleen McAndrews brought architect Peter Turowski of T2 Architecture, owner’s project manager Joe Sullivan of Daedalus Projects, and a detailed PowerPoint presentation on where to site a new school on the 5.15-acre property bounded by Spring and West William streets in Tisbury.
Boston-based Daedalus Projects managed construction of the West Tisbury library and public safety buildings, and of the new Oak Bluffs fire station. T2 Architecture of Marion has designed at least 11 new schools in the state.
The site plans included options to build the new school before the old structure is demolished and, alternatively, to raze the old building before beginning construction for the project, estimated to begin in 2019 and to be completed in time for the 2021 school year.
Monday night’s audience included both build proponents and renovation proponents among the two dozen speakers eager to address the project in the ninth public meeting on plans for the school.
“It is not clear if the town is willing to foot the bill for a $30 million–plus project. We need to understand where taxpayers stand on building versus renovation. The building committee has an agenda that is not fair to the town,” resident Lilian Robinson said.
After the meeting, Ms. Robinson, a 1990 graduate of the school, said her concerns also extend to projected future enrollment. The plans foresee a school suitable for 285 students, including a new pre-K classroom. Currently, 305 students are enrolled at the middle school.
On the other side, Wiet Bacheller said she loves the school, “but it’s time for a new school. I would love to see it moved and used for another purpose,” she said. Ms. Bacheller taught at the school for 29 years before retiring in 2004. After the meeting, she said, “The classrooms need to be bigger. The cafeteria needs to be bigger. Kids are shuttled in for 20-minute lunch breaks to accommodate the population. The gym needs to be bigger.”
Current teacher Liz Bradley advised residents to “come to the school, walk the halls, and see the classrooms yourself.”
Resident Henry Stephenson has followed the new school plan process, and offered advice to the planners. “I understand that renovation may cost as much but a lot of us don’t know that it costs as much. I would say that if you want support from town meeting, both options need to be presented so we can see. If you want to see how the town thinks, have public meetings with apples to apples, comparisons. If you think there are benefits [to building a new school], sell it, go for it, but we are not going to take your word for it; you have to show us,” he said.
The School Building Committee has subcommittees dedicated to various aspects of the project, including sustainability, materials maintenance security, communications and technology, and outdoor facilities.
The subcommittees have begun holding public meetings on their disciplines. Meeting dates are available at tisbury-schools-project.com. The website also contains complete data on the project to date, including renderings and site options for the proposed new school.
As Mr. Turowski explained the design plans, common and public areas are on the first floor, and second- and third-floor classrooms and labs can be secured from their common areas.
Voters at the 2016 town meeting appropriated $825,000 for preliminary planning work, of which $338,000 is reimbursable by MSBA for the work presented on Monday night.
The School Building Committee is moving its project along to conform to deadlines set by the MSBA. The building committee plans to submit a proposal to MSBA by Jan. 3 to stay on track for a Feb. 14 presentation to MSBA, and in time to finalize a warrant article for town meeting consideration in April.
The School Building Committee plans to vote Sept. 25 on where the proposed new school will be situated on the school campus. That meeting begins at 5 pm in the Tisbury School library.