A new suggested size for Tisbury School


To the Editor:

We the undersigned residents of Tisbury support a more fiscally responsible, environmentally appropriate, historically sensitive, and culturally fitting solution that will meet the academic needs of our students for years to come at a more appropriate cost to our taxpayers.

To make an informed decision, Tisbury voters should consider the following facts to understand how big a school we actually need.

A 2015 National School Construction Report pegged the square foot per student ratio nationally at 188 square feet per student, and for Massachusetts, at 214 square feet per student.

We have used figures from the following sources to prepare this analysis: Massachusetts School Building Authority, Tisbury School Building Committee reports, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education district profile reports, and official town assessment records.

Our current school is 56,000 square feet, with an enrollment of around 300 students. This is 186 square feet per student.

The Oak Bluffs School is 95,000 square feet. With its current full enrollment at around 426 students, it has 223 square feet per student.

The Edgartown School is 78,055 square feet It was originally designed for 550 to 600 students, which would have been 141 square feet per student. Currently, it has 328 students, at 237 square feet per student.

The West Tisbury School is 61,000 square feet, with an enrollment of 352 students; it has 173 square feet per student.

The proposed new school will be 76,000 square feet for a projected enrollment of 285 students, and would have 267 square feet per student.

This is above the national and state averages, and above all the other schools on the island.

The Cabot School, in the highly regarded Newton school district, which is currently undergoing an extensive addition and renovation project with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), was built in 1929, was 41,000 square feet, and had 449 students, for 91 square feet per student. Newton will add 44,000 square feet of new space to the Cabot School, and increase enrollment to 480 students, for 177 square feet per student. This MSBA project, when completed, ends up less than the existing Tisbury School per-student ratio.

The largest contributing factor to the overbuild is having two classrooms per grade, and since we chose new construction, we are forced through the MSBA to build to the new standards, which would not have been the case given a renovation/addition project.

Just using the Oak Bluffs ratio, we should be building 63,550 square feet of school for Tisbury, not 76,000 square feet. The 12,500 square-foot difference would result in a cost savings around $6.5 million on new construction. A renovation and addition option could reduce this number by at least another $4 million.

A general misconception is that new construction is less expensive than renovation. This is simply not the case. Base renovation on our current 56,000 square foot school was estimated to be $20 million or $360 per square foot. This would be a complete restoration, new heating, ventilation, electric, windows, interior finishes, everything.

We also know that construction costs for the proposed new building are $513 per square foot. In comparison, if you averaged these two costs, you arrive at $436 per square foot. And to further support this, look at the Cabot School, which is half renovation and half addition, and is being constructed for $426 per square foot.

A renovation and addition project may reduce the cost substantially to the town, by close to $11 million. This savings may increase if the MSBA continues to participate. An addition to our current building of roughly 8,000 square feet would bring our academic program in line with some of the other schools on the Island that are closer to the Massachusetts average. We spend less money either way.

Please consider voting no on April 24 on the Prop. 2½ override, to allow the town to develop this considerably better alternative.

Paul Cefola, Tristan Israel, Marie Laursen, Bruce Lewellyn, Melinda Loberg, Rachel Orr, Tony Peak, Ben Robinson, Jimmy Rogers, Katherine Scott, Dan Seidman, Henry Stephenson, Denys and Marilyn Wortman

Vineyard Haven


  1. Yes the Cabot School is undergoing and extensive renovation/addition. It is in accordance with the MSBA standards as evidenced by the twenty 950 square foot classrooms and the four 1200 square feet for kindergarten classrooms. The Cabot School benefits from an economy of scale that Tisbury will not realize by spreading the core item costs of a gymnasium, cafeteria, library, language, art, music, mechanicals, common spaces and site work over a greater number of students thus reducing their per pupil cost. Additionally the Cabot School class sizes are based on twenty students per class and as part of a larger district will be able to maximize the usage.
    Harold Chapdelaine, TSBC

  2. I reviewed the Cabot school plans when I was doing my comparative analysis. The classrooms are all just at or below 900 sq.ft. The kindergartens are 970 sq.ft. They do include a cubby/entry space each of 150 sq.ft. So lets call them 1120 sq.ft.
    The existing Tisbury school kindergartens built as part of the 1995 addition are also 1100 sq.ft.
    Cost effective solutions in regard to scale point to looking at all the islands school facilities as one district. Maybe there are actually economies of scale we have not yet realized here on MV.
    Building an oversized, expensive building, and wastefully tearing down a sound historical school smacks of hubris.

    • We scoff at those who would believe in fake news across our country, but here is an example in our own back-yard and many are towing the line, repeating these falsehoods to friends, neighbors, and family. This letter is filled with half-truths at best and outright falsehoods at worst.

      I’m surprised at – and embarrassed for – all who signed.

  3. Mr. Robinson needs to get a job with the town as something. Seems to have his fingers everywhere but an expert of none. He was proved wrong at town meeting the second night when he talked about the Carr School. I watched it on tape. Your meetings in Tisbury are too long and you need a new moderator.

  4. While Ben and I have approached this most demanding need from different points of view it is important to remember it is with the Towns best interest in mind. There is no doubt I believe the new-build path is the most responsible way forward for the school and the Town in the short and long term. I am confident in this from the data I’ve studied and the professionals I’ve had the pleasure of working with thus far. Ben finds the renovation/addition path more suitable. At the least we have inspired a strong debate and the exchange of ideas and information. The level of participation around this major issue has increased and hopefully our debate will inspire more people to become involved in Town Govement. Not Twon politics but Town government. Many boards and committees are in need of willing contributors. The school project has prompted many supporters and critics. It would be very helpful if more energy was spent during the planning and development phase rather than at the eleventh hour. In conclusion I appreciate Ben’s involvement and passion and trust his intentions are well meaning as I hope you trust in mine.
    Harold Chapdelaine, TSBC

  5. Has anybody done the math after an increase in student enrollment? Is it worth spending additional money now to avoid space concerns 20 years from now? Or is this included in that report mentioned?

  6. Dont worry, the authorities will just ask for another vote on the school until they get the votes they want. this happened a few years ago on alcohol in tisbury remember. Just vote again. simple. guarantee they will try again.

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