Crumbling steps, windows held together with insulating foam to keep water out, and wood floors buckling so badly a selectman referred to one as a speed bump.
That’s what about 30 people, including the elected members of the board of selectmen and school committee, saw as they toured the Tisbury School Tuesday morning. The joint meeting between the two boards was a site visit to decide what to do next after voters rejected spending $46.6 million on a new school at the polls in April.
The school was built in 1929, and was most recently added on to in the 1990s. To be kind, it’s showing its age.
Even before the site visit began, the tension between town and school leaders was still palpable. School officials blame selectmen for helping to sink the project by failing to take an official stand on it, and instead, writing letters to the editor raising questions about the cost and whether the existing school should be preserved.
As the crowd waited for two selectmen to arrive, town administrator Jay Grande told Tisbury School Principal John Custer that it was important selectman Jim Rogers be there, because he’s for renovating the existing school.
Custer asked Grande if Rogers had already formed an opinion about the project. “I have an open mind,” Custer said as he walked away from Grande.
The tour included stops at the boiler room, where aging equipment is kept together with duct tape. “They’re here so often for repairs and maintenance, they have their own spot,” Custer said of the A.P. Fortes Plumbing and Heating van in the parking lot.
“Is it up to speed?” Grande asked Custer as members of the boards went inside.
“Parts of it, yes,” Custer said. “Others, no.”
Vents on the outside of the building were covered over to prevent cold air from getting inside the building, Tisbury facilities manager Kirk Metell said, pointing to the vents covered in foil.
All along the outside, there were crumbling steps and walkways compromised by tree roots. The playing fields showed wear from overuse, and new play structures, paid for through donations, provided colorful beacons among the basketball hoops with no nets.
Many of the school’s 150 windows are clouded over, and the lintels above them are decaying, which is, in turn, causing problems for the surrounding brick, Mettel point out. The building’s front steps are crumbling, bricks are pulling away from the sides, and nothing about them is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A smaller building, known as the Little White House, houses four classrooms for special-needs programs. Though he’s grateful for the space, it poses equity and safety issues, Custer said. “It’s a civil rights issue,” he said.
Other safety issues were also pointed out with the building, though the entrance does have a recently installed class door that forces visitors to stop at the office to be buzzed in.
In a third grade classroom, those who went inside had to dodge a 10-foot section of flooring that had bubbled up as a result of poor ventilation. Selectman Melinda Loberg jokingly referred to it as a “speed bump.”
While the public has talked about the wood floors being desirable, Custer said they can no longer be refinished, and when they’re replaced, laminate is put in its place based on the advice of construction experts.
It’s unclear what the next steps will be for the school. In order to seek state funding, the town would have to reapply through the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The town had been in line to receive $14.1 million in reimbursements for the failed project, but that money is now gone.
Grande said there would be no deliberations by the boards. He said it was an opportunity for them to see the school’s needs for themselves and ask questions. Among those in attendance were about a dozen town department heads and employees, some teachers, and community members.
Grande handed out a sheet of selected cost estimates totaling $16.3 million from a report done by Daedalus, a consultant on the previous project. He cautioned that the numbers may not be the total cost of what’s needed to renovate the building.
“It’s not to skew it one way or the other,” he said while handing out the sheet. “It’s so we can understand the magnitude.”