Tappé tapped to design renovated Tisbury School

Three boards make the Boston firm a unanimous pick.

Members of the Tisbury board of selectmen, school committee, and building committee met Friday morning to pick an architect to work on Tisbury School. - George Brennan

Tappé Architects, a Boston-based firm that worked on the Edgartown library, has been tapped to design the renovation and addition for Tisbury School.

At a Friday morning meeting, the Tisbury board of selectmen and Tisbury School Committee endorsed the decision by the Tisbury School Building Committee to select the firm from among three that applied for the job. Turowski 2, the firm that worked on the failed new school project, and Arrowstreet also bid on the project.

Town administrator Jay Grande has been authorized to work out a contract with the firm.

Members of the building committee spoke about Tappé in glowing terms, highlighting the thoughtful approach taken to answering questions during the interview process. All three firms were excited about the possibility of restoring the vintage building, Rachel Orr, building committee chair, said. “We were impressed as a group that they were really thinking, before answering they were really thinking about our questions,” Orr said of Tappé. 

And while all three firms talked about the challenges of working with the 1929 building, they were also excited by that challenge, Orr said. “They all want to take a vintage building and turn it into a future building,” she said.

Harold Chapdelaine, another member of the school building committee, said Tappé showed enthusiasm about including the community in the process, and problem-solving. Chapdelaine mentioned that all members of the firm were in the audience during the interview process, and talked about a phased approach and working with smaller spaces.

“In our community, that level of intimacy, getting to know us all, is really an asset as we build bridges toward a successful project,” Chapdelaine said.

Reade Milne, another building committee member, added to the chorus of praise, saying that she was impressed that the firm wasn’t trying to reach for something to impress the town only to say that it’s too expensive down the line. “Don’t design something that you can’t afford. I appreciated that perspective from the get-go,” she said. “Start realistically. We’re not a flashy firm. We’re timeless and elegant. I think that’s fitting for what we’re looking at.”

Orr said the three-dimensional modeling that can be shared on a computer is something that will help the community understand how the space is being used. Having worked on the school in the 1990s, Tappé took out the historic drawings and began tweaking them, to demonstrate some ideas they had about the project in time for their interview, Orr said.

Selectman Jim Rogers, who represents the board on the building committee, said he was impressed by Tappé’s idea of adding on a new gym to free up space in the existing building.

None of the firms were scared off by the aggressive timeline. Orr said they’ll be given three months to do a feasibility study, and an additional three months to come up with more detailed designs based off the community input.

School board member Janet Packer pointed out the obvious: That means the initial idea of getting something to town meeting in the spring is off the table. Instead, officials will look to have a special town meeting and a special election to fund the project.

When that happens will likely be a political decision, Rogers said. “Is it going to be wise to try to bring voters into a special town meeting in July for a project that’s so important as this, or do we say, ‘Look, let’s let everyone get through the summer and have a special town meeting in September?’”

Chapdelaine suggested that it might not be a good idea to rush the project at all, to save 60 to 90 days on a building that the community is expecting to last another 100 years. Taking the fast track might not be the best approach, he said. “We’re ripe for mistakes when we do that, and in construction mistakes turn out to costs to the owner. They’re not costs to the builder. They’re not costs to architects. They’re costs to the owner, and the town of Tisbury is the owner.”

Asked by selectmen chair Melinda Loberg what other projects Tappé is working on now, school committee member Michael Watts said the firm only bids on projects it knows it can take on. “They, as a small firm, know what they can or can’t do,” he said.

A message left at the firm’s Boston office was not immediately returned.

Superintendent Matt D’Andrea supported the pick. “I’ve worked with Tappé. I’ve had some experience with them, and it’s been nothing but positive, very professional, responsive. I think it’s a great selection.”