Tisbury School to be tested for lead, asbestos

Officials try to understand the scope of problem before implementing a plan for students, teachers.

Superintendent of schools Matt D'Andrea, left, and Tisbury School principal John Custer, right, field questions from parents and teachers. — Brian Dowd

The Tisbury School will have a comprehensive test to look for lead paint and asbestos in the school on Monday.

In a joint meeting with town selectmen Tuesday, Tisbury School administration and Tisbury School Committee members told a room full of concerned parents, teachers, and residents that a meeting to determine the next steps would be held immediately after results are available. Results on the testing will take one to two weeks. 

While there was a general consensus among officials, parents, and teachers that there is lead, asbestos, and mold in the building, Principal John Custer said they needed the facts first before implementing a plan. Depending on the results, Custer said plans could include moving children to other parts of the building, utilizing trailers, using neighboring buildings, churches, and libraries, and even delaying the start of school.

The failed vote to build a new school was very much on the minds of those inside the Katharine Cornell Theater. Tisbury has wrestled with the need for a new school or a renovation for the better part of three years. In April 2018, voters rejected spending $46.6 million on a new school building by 21 votes at the polls. The building project had been approved at a town meeting. This summer, a newly appointed building committee has begun discussions looking at a long-term solution for the school.

Voters spoke at the polls, but problems with the school building, built in 1929 and added onto several times through the years, persist. A recent air quality analysis by the state Department of Public Health (DPH) showed serious deficiencies at the school caused by leaking windows. There are problems with mold, and potentially issues with lead paint and asbestos, according to the report. The DPH report recommended the town do testing for lead paint and asbestos.

Another report on the school’s accessibility also showed significant problems with restrooms, stairs, handrails, and doors that are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The site visit was done on May 6, 2019, and the report is 544 pages. It shows an estimated $1.25 million in repairs that are needed just to bring the school into compliance.

“We had a plan to fix all of this with $13 million coming from the government to help us do it, and it didn’t happen, so now we’re here and we have to go forward and deal with it,” Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said.

Aside from lead and asbestos, D’Andrea said, if mold is found they will clean it, and if there is water leakage they will seal it, but no mold testing would be done.

“The [DPH], when they came, they told us testing for mold is a waste of time,” he said. “There’s mold everywhere, you’re going to get positive results.”

“The concerns are legitimate, but it’s like getting a bad shot in golf. If you think about that bad shot you’re destined to hit another bad shot; all we can do now is go forward,” selectman Jim Roger said. 

Several parents, teachers, and residents voiced their concern about the school and asked for more concrete plans on how the school would deal with any potential issues.

Sarah York, a parent of two children who attend the school and a member of the town’s finance committee, pushed officials for a backup plan if work to remediate lead or asbestos extends past the looming first day of school on Sept. 3.

“The health and safety of students and staff is No. 1, and there really isn’t a No. 2,” Custer said. “It will depend quite frankly on the results of the testing … I don’t have a concrete plan, but I have ideas.”

Selectman Jeff Kristal said he assured one teacher who was not at Tuesday’s meeting that her room would be tested because he knows she has peeling paint being swept up every night. D’Andrea said peeling paint being swept up had not been verified.

Parents were concerned, but selectmen and school officials were adamant that test results needed to be received before any plan was put forth.

If remediation is needed, it may take up to a month before it can be done. Once testing is complete and the results are in hand, the town would need to hire a consultant who would give them an estimate on how much remediation would cost. With that number, the town could then call a special town meeting and have voters vote to approve funds for remediation. 

“Let’s really look at this. We need a backup plan,” Janet Packer, a school committee member, said.

Emily Solarazza, a parent, said testing was way overdue. “[Teachers] are at risk, my children are at risk, and I am not OK with being remiss as a parent to my own children’s health, and treating the people who I respect so highly with such indecency to get them working conditions that are not fair or healthy. I do not appreciate not knowing what the plan is, and why we’re sitting here two years later with still nothing going on — it’s not OK,” Solarazza said. “We need the cooperation of the selectmen and the town to make this the priority it absolutely is.”


  1. I can’t imagine what the longterm health impact is on the students and teachers for being exposed to mold, lead paint chips, and asbestos on a daily basis. This is a tragedy in the making. If test results confirm these health dangers then the school needs to be shutdown. If the town won’t the state should shutter it.

  2. How on earth was this testing not done during the proposal period? Weren’t these kind of tests conducted as part of the building grant application process?
    I’m genuinely surprised we’re just now coming around to this. What a predicament – I really sympathize with teachers, students, and administrators. Everybody except the shortsighted fools who voted down the new school, that is.

    • Testing was done Mack and was determined that all these issues existed and this is not just coming out now. This town had expressed this concern for years and those shortsighted fools who voted it down should be ashamed of themselves. Mack, this will cost your town millions more than before.

  3. I’ve worked in that building and you don’t need a test to know there is asbestos in it. Just look at the pipes in the mechanical areas that are wrapped with the stuff.

  4. at what point does the safety of the children override the stupidity of the town voters and the school is just shut down ? We have a new building inspector– perhaps his first big move should be to shut it down. I hope the town officials are getting a plan together for if and when that may happen.. I wouldn’t let my kid go into that building every day.

    • Maybe they should have some night classes in there so we can see how bad it is. Open it up to the public.

      • It’s a public school. It’s where town meeting is held. They actually held tours prior to the votes that were publicized.

    • Dondondon
      The town voters voted democratically and now in your view they are stupid because you didn’t get the desired result. Wonderful. The voters were not told about lead and mold and asbestos and we still don’t know scientifically. Should we just build on our emotions?.. yes it is a predicament but blame the administration for not having reserves for maintenance and capital expense. Do you know who specifically should have done that? I do. The person who does the budget for the school.

        • Mr Brennan you are correct. But if this so, then the vote should not have been solely on the 46 million cost. The vote should have been framed differently. “” we have mold and asbestos and lead and we have a huge liability issue. It ain’t just 46 million. It is a larger issue”” That would have gotten the voters attention. I do not remember significant talk about health and liability. I heard more about student and teacher comfort.

      • Andrew– Stupid is as stupid does– I am not calling any individuals stupid, but the collective decision was stupid. The vote against a new school was fueled by not enough information, misinformation, and a deeply seated fear of new taxes, as well as due negligence by the town to not provide a plan “B”
        The benefits of a new school would far outweigh the cost of putting band aids on the old school, and hoping for the best while rolling the dice on the health of our children. I am sure you managed to selectively tune out the talk about mold and asbestos and deferred maintenance — “blah blah blah TAXES” is what I will assume you and every anti voter heard, but there was plenty of talk about a deteriorating and unsafe building.

  5. This is the filter bubble at work… Voters hear what they want to hear, and their ideas are reinforced/remain unchallenged because they don’t allow outside information.

    The reality is that these issues were discussed, in earnest, at the Tisbury School Building Committee (public) meetings, and was a significant factor for committee members when they decided to select new construction rather than renovation and addition. Outside of those meetings, numerous public forums were held in various sites across town to listen, address concerns, answer questions, and inform. Minutes were posted, video taken (on plum tv, if I recall), but every effort of that committee was met with walls of determined ignorance and outright lies.

    All of this was recently compared to a bad golf shot for the town by the select board, but two of those three members signed the letter to the editor asking people not to vote for that plan.

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