MVRHS passed up for construction grant

High school didn’t receive need-based MSBA grant, will reapply.

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The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) was recently passed over for a construction grant for the fifth year in a row, and will reapply during the next grant cycle, in April.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) allows school districts across the commonwealth to apply for need-based grant assistance for shovel-ready projects that enhance the quality of education and meet the needs of students.

According to Superintendent Matt D’Andrea, the state collects a certain amount of money to use for the grant program, and receives applications from various districts. “Any public school district can apply. They [the MSBA] receive a percentage of the sales tax in Massachusetts to put into this grant,” D’Andrea said. “Depending on the amount of revenue they get based on sales tax, they can award a certain amount of money.”

D’Andrea said the MSBA reimburses between 20 and 80 percent of the total construction cost, depending on the need, and the high school project would most likely qualify for about 40 percent reimbursement, if approved.

The grant changes from year to year, depending on what other districts apply, but D’Andrea said the application process remains the same.

Last year, Oak Bluffs refused to budge on its nay vote for a feasibility study that would provide construction documents for a new or renovated high school. 

In 2018, Tisbury voters rejected a tax hike to pay for a new $46.6 million elementary school that would have seen a $14.6 million reimbursement grant from the MSBA. But the state funds were contingent on the town voters approving the $32 million share of the cost, so that money was not received.

D’Andrea said an initial feasibility study determines the district’s options and whether it is necessary to do smaller, piecemeal renovations and additions, or a total renovation or construction of a brand-new facility.

“It [the grant] can be used for smaller renovations and additions, or it can be used to construct an entire new school. It all depends on the need of the district and the money that is available,” D’Andrea said.

According to D’Andrea, the MSBA strongly considers whether a public school will be able to receive funding from member towns, which is possibly one of the reasons MVRHS has not received funding. 

“The MSBA wants to get you a new or renovated school; they are on your side. They prefer to work with a district where they are confident the building project will be approved by the towns,” D’Andrea said. 

The high school will review their written Statement of Interest (SOI) and update it based on their budget and the needs of the educational community. “We want to make sure our SOI is updated, and as clearly written as possible,” D’Andrea said. 

MVRHS Principal Sara Dingledy said the application and approval process for the construction grant is “pretty complex,” and that it changes based on the school’s certified budget.

“From what I hear, they look at the condition of the school, the amount of money they have, and the need of the entire region,” Dingledy said.

Dingledy agreed with D’Andrea that less contention and more teamwork between Island towns could possibly make the MSBA more confident in the school’s ability to find funding and make progress. “I am sure everyone would benefit, with key indicators that we are ready to receive this money and use it for something that will help the students and the Island,” Dingledy said. “I don’t like taking a piecemeal approach.”