The Tisbury community heard from Tappé Architects about the firm’s plans for the renovation and fourth addition of the Tisbury School at a building committee meeting Tuesday.
Many issues were brought up by parents, staff, and town residents, mostly relating to increased student safety, the addition of multi-use spaces, and energy efficiency within the school.
Tisbury selectman Melinda Loberg said she occasionally volunteers at the school, and greatly enjoys the media center. But she said other accommodations are severely lacking.
“There are lots of great nooks and crannies to sit and talk individually with a student,” Loberg said. “I also attend school committee meetings, and those accommodations are awful.”
Loberg said accomodations for teachers outside the classroom “need a lot of work,” and space is the first thing that comes to mind.
Tisbury resident and school committee member Amy Houghton said the meeting space for many of the town boards can accommodate “maybe 15 people” in tight quarters. “We want a more inviting space, with enough room for modern media, and enough space for people who want to attend,” Houghton said.
A teacher, Meredith Goldthwait, said classroom space is always an issue. She said having enough space for kids to move around and enjoy their programs is essential to a healthy learning environment. “It’s not the building necessarily, although it does need more space. It’s the programs inside the building that make everything work,” Goldthwait said.
Tisbury School Principal John Custer said historically, the rooms used for board meetings have been based on the space that is available. He said the needs of the students are his main priority, and as long as they have enough space, that’s the most important thing.
“With all due apologies to those who attend the meetings in those cramped, and as you said, Melinda, ‘awful’ settings — as long as the kids are the priority, I’m good with that,” Custer said.
Custer said he acknowledges the lack of space for meetings, and said that with the new renovation and addition, more attention will be paid to providing private spaces for parents, students, and teachers to meet in confidentiality.
Parent Anna Cotton said more schools have considered the implementation of flexible learning spaces that can be used for multiple purposes. She said it’s good to have enough space, but small classroom settings can also be beneficial. “My child has some attention issues, so it’s always nice when he can be in a space that is a little less distracting,” Cotton said.
She also said the school has “a lot of sentimentality,” and the challenge for Tappé will be to come up with a 21st century design while preserving the historical elements of the building.
Building committee member Rita Jeffers said the flow of the building has to be considered when thinking about the proximity of classrooms and hallways.
“We want kids to have more time for learning, and less time transitioning from classroom to classroom,” Jeffers said. “The layout of the building greatly impacts the socio-emotional elements of day-to-day life for students.”
Tisbury teacher and parent Alice Robinson suggested keeping the school a three-floor facility, because it allows kids to get exercise when they are going up and down the stairs to different areas of the building.
“These kids are frequently moving throughout the building to different floors,” Robinson said. “If you have a 10-year-old with too much energy, the stairs are like built-in exercise. You need to provide the opportunity for kids to be physically active all day long.”
She also said the fact that the school is a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school should be considered when planning the flow of the school. “I love the fact that younger kids are always integrated with the older kids, and there is that constant exchange,” Robinson said.
Parent Nevette Previd said that although Custer runs the cafeteria and lunch period like a “well-oiled machine,” she called the process of filtering students in and out of the cafeteria a necessarily “militant” ordeal.
“The opportunity for a better kitchen would be wonderful. I would like to see a space that was large enough so we could extend the lunch period, and have the process be less militant for students,” Previd said.
She also said her third grader is beginning to get interested in building things, and suggested a makerspace for involving youth in the trades.
Angie Francis, a parent and architect, asked Tappé what the “soul of the school” is going to be about, and what architectural experience will be provided to kids. “How are the changes in the building going to reflect the growth of our students through their young lives?” Francis asked.
Building committee member Peter Gearhart remarked on the interesting architecture of the existing school, and touched on some of the impediments to efficiency and accessibility created by an outdated facility. “There are these massive windows, which were eliminated from schools for many years. You don’t feel closed in, except for maybe in the Spanish and music rooms; those rooms are caves,” Gearhart said. “I don’t think I’ve seen a gym as dark as ours.”
Despite the aesthetically pleasing aspects of the school’s architectural style, Gearhart said, there are many functional areas where the school falls short. “If you go to town meeting and you have a physical disability, it is very difficult to get into our school. It is not handicap-friendly,” Gearhart said.
Building committee chair Rachel Orr said that even on the side of the building where there are more accessibility features, the doors are heavy, and the prevailing winds slam the doors whenever there is a strong gust. “We need to design our accesses while taking into consideration the powerful prevailing winds,” Orr said.
Tisbury parent Ben Robinson said considering all the materials used to renovate the school and construct an addition is essential in the preliminary stages of the project. “We don’t want to run into this issue we have now where we are realizing all of these toxic materials,” Robinson said.
Following up on Robinson’s comment, teacher Kate Harding said there are many high-quality materials in the existing school that are very expensive, and should be preserved if possible. “We need to consider the longevity of the materials we choose, and the usage of existing materials,” Harding said.
Resident Steve Harding proposed the possibility of a swimming pool at the Tisbury School that could be used by students during the school day, and be used by the public when school is not in session.
“It could benefit the community, and create a new revenue stream for the school,” Harding said.
Another issue that was addressed was student safety and security in an age of frequent school shootings and other dangers. “Sometimes, when I stand in my classroom with all those big windows, I feel very vulnerable,” Kate Harding said. “I think in the world today, certain precautions need to be taken.”
Jeffers said that it’s easy to brush off the possibility of an incident of violence here in our Vineyard schools, but said the shooting at quaint and quiet Sandy Hook is evidence that small towns aren’t immune: “I think it’s easy to say, ‘Not in our community, that won’t happen.’ But parents at Sandy Hook might have said the same thing before it happened,” Jeffers said. “Our kids need to be safe; that needs to be a priority.”