A plan to remediate lead paint conditions at the ailing Tisbury School got a rocket boost Thursday afternoon when Massachusetts authorities greenlighted a waiver for a $300,000 plan that will allow remediation of lead paint conditions to be accomplished by Christmas and bring now-separated students back together when school resumes in January.
The state’s stunning action to approve a no-bid waiver the same day it was received is also important because Tisbury voters at a Tuesday special town meeting will be asked to appropriate $1.5 million in one article and $450,000 in a second article, both related to costs and potential costs of the project, including costs of relocating students to the high school, and hiring of an owner’s project manager and a remediation company.
The language in the first article includes projected costs for leasing or buying modular classroom and office units, an idea Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said the school district will not pursue because of time and cost constraints. “It could take us six months just to get the units on-Island,” he told several groups this week.
The fixup plan involves remediating the first-floor portion of the 90-year-old building through a combination of cleanup techniques and “encapsulation,” a spray-on process that seals affected surfaces. At the same time, ceilings will be covered with plastic sheathing, the ceiling panels removed, and any accumulated asbestos insulation removed.
The school will employ a full-time environmental hygienist for the duration of the project, and as a result of the sometimes contentious afternoon meeting, Tisbury officials will seek a second waiver to undertake an examination of the entire HVAC (heat, ventilation, and air conditioning) system to ensure that air quality and proper air flow are monitored and that testing for radon gas is completed.
Both officials and parents called the $300,000 fix a “Band-Aid” that will provide three or four years of safe conditions while the town revisits a plan to renovate and add to the building. School stakeholders have been involved in planning to replace or renovate the school since 2012. Proponents of a new school saw their plan defeated by 21 votes out of nearly 1,200 cast at the 2018 annual town election. The school was approved at a town meeting.
So on a wild day that featured two public meetings on the Tisbury School, highlighted by several meltdowns and a stunning quickstep by state officials, D’Andrea told a 1:30 public and school committee gathering that a waiver had been filed that morning, then was able to open the 6 pm gathering with the words, “We got the waiver.”
With noteworthy speed, the state and local gears shifted quickly on Thursday. D’Andrea had asked the town administrator to ask state agencies for an emergency waiver of the bidding process so that Tisbury could hire a team immediately to do the project, rather than following the usual six- to eight-week bidding process, pushing project completion to the end of the first quarter of 2020.
D’Andrea had alerted state legislators Cape and Islands Sen. Julian Cyr and state Rep. Dylan Fernandes that the request was on the way. Grande filed it Thursday morning, and D’Andrea got a call later on Thursday confirming the waiver had been granted. He emailed the Tisbury School community the news on Thursday afternoon, he said.
School officials received test results just two weeks before the school year, forcing them to delay the start of school and split students. Kindergartners through grade 4 have been learning in a section of the Tisbury School, while the rest of the school is closed off because of the lead discovery. Grades 5-8 are at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) until cleanup is completed.
On Thursday night, news that the state had waived the need for competitive bidding for hiring a team to remediate lead paint conditions had a perceptible exhale effect on a group of people who have been working under heightened stress for several years around providing care for the school.
The evening session went a lot better than things had gone four hours earlier at a Tisbury School Committee meeting when the gloves came off several times, though interestingly, the spats produced a valuable addition to the cleanup plan.
A dozen parents and an assortment of Tisbury School and town officials gathered at a 1:30 pm school committee meeting, and 30 more showed up for an evening forum in the Katharine Cornell Theater to discuss the plan for the near future of the school.
Things got heated during the Thursday afternoon session when committee member Janet Packer and town administrator Jay Grande, who took the gloves off suddenly after Packer lost it, accusing Grande of “always throwing us [the school committee] under the bus. I don’t mind in the least being held accountable, but we’re always getting digs from you,” she said. “We need to begin talking nicely to each other, without the digs,” she said, after enumerating a list of actions or perceived inactions by Grande and town employees.
Grande wasn’t having it, interrupting Packer to say, “You shout me down at meetings,” and defending his behavior. Both combatants and the room took a silent break for a few seconds.
Shortly after that, parent Emily Solarazzo took on D’Andrea for what she considered bad oversight of school conditions. “Why should it be the [teacher] union’s job to alert us about unsafe conditions?. I don’t understand how 15 kids had lead paint on their hands and no one called it until the union.”
Solarazzo questioned if it was “a viable, safe plan” that D’Andrea presented. “That’s what I need to know,” she said. When D’Andrea countered that he didn’t know lead paint was present, Solarazzo cut him off. “Why not? And if we find out radon is a problem, will we all move out again?” she said. “We need to be hypervigilant now, more than we’ve been, and I don’t know if [people] are doing their jobs.”
D’Andrea told the Times on Friday that in the interchange with Solarazzo, his complete comment was truncated. “Of course, everyone knew there was chipping paint, but I didn’t believe it was lead paint that was chipping,” he said, noting that lead paint remediation had been done in the past.
Siobhan Mullin, president of the PTO, then asked a steady series of specific questions about the plan, the follow-up, and followthrough.
“The building leaks. How does the encapsulation material handle water? What would be the effect of continued leaks in the integrity?” she said. Owner’s project manager (OPM) Richard Marks, president of Daedalus Projects, promised to provide an answer.
Voters will have a chance to decide on the next steps at a special town meeting Tuesday at 7 pm inside the Tisbury School gymnasium.