The sum total of Tappé Architects’ draft existing conditions report for the Tisbury School reveals the Tisbury School needs to be gutted for a renovation and addition project to succeed. Tappé and its subcontractors found widespread deficiencies inside the building that necessitated removal, as opposed to repair or upgrade. Chris Blessen of Tappé, which is the firm tapped to inspect the school and formulate designs for it, told the Tisbury School Building Committee Monday night that the handwriting was on the wall.
“Really we’re talking about the majority of the building going down to the studs,” he said.
”I was never in doubt that this was a total gut job,” committee member and Tisbury selectman Jim Rogers said. “Get down to the studs and see what’s really there. That was always in my mind — the way you would have to go.”
The roof likely “needs to be rebuilt and redone for structural reasons,” Blessen said, “especially if we’re going to put solar panels on top of it.” He also said new code requirements relative to earthquake engineering may be required, given the scale of the work.
“We’re going to engage a consultant to come out and take basically a core sample of the existing bricks, so we can see how much moisture is inside of that, and get a real good sense of what the existing brick walls are doing,” he said
Daedalus Projects president Richard Marks piggybacked on Blessen, noting the school needs extensive work.
“If you read the report, you’ll see the exterior walls need significant work,” Marks said. “The windows in most cases have failed, [even the glazing] in the newer part of the building. The cast stone or concrete sills and lintels need to be replaced. There’s significant brick replacement that needs to be done. So I just want to make sure everyone understands, because we’ve had this real strong desire to renovate the existing building … We’re talking about stripping it down to its studs and doing significant work, perhaps taking the roof off, which means sort of a temporary roof, and then doing significant work to the exterior as well.”
Committee member Reade Milne, who is also Edgartown building inspector, said she was confident the scale of the work would necessitate wholesale code upgrades, including seismic or earthquake engineering.
“It’s not impossible to upgrade a masonry structure seismically, but it’s a big intervention,” Marks said. “We did one up in Lowell at the Boott Mills, which is a National Park building — the National Park Service had sufficient funds. But we were talking 10 percent of the construction cost for just seismic upgrades … essentially the walls have to be able to move and not fall down in an earthquake, and it’s not easy to do.”
Asked by The Times if brick mortar at the school had been tested or would be tested for asbestos, Marks said, “I’d like to punt on the answer.” Marks said he wanted to “engage our hazardous consultant to determine whether he advises doing that in conjunction with the core testing of the brick …”
Marks said it was “doubtful” a phased construction project is still plausible, especially for the older portions of the school. “We could potentially keep the [1990s] section so you’d be back to something like you were the first semester of this year,” he said. “Which everybody loved,” he added facetiously. “So keep a core school operating while you redo the old building, and then come back and do the [1990s] renovation, probably with an addition at the same time you’re doing the older building renovation work.”
One caveat with such a phased process is it would extend construction time, he said.
“That will be a judgment call we’ll have to make based on [the availability of] alternative facilities and the cost of alternative facilities,” he said.
Milne pointed out renovation costs had begun to take on the appearance of new school scale and costs. She said that while she understood the community wanted to preserve the the look of the building, she also understood they didn’t want to spend mightily, and that it was paramount the committee impress upon voters what’s required at the school, and what’s at stake.
“I’m saying if we don’t start focusing on that now, then this is all for nothing,” she said. “All of this — for nothing. If people don’t understand, really understand, that this has to happen, then we’re going to be still stuck with these same problems.”
Committee member Harold Chapdelaine said a light renovation “seems absolutely irresponsible,” and would be “kicking the can down the road.” He said students and teachers should be forewarned displacement is likely on the horizon.
“I think that reality has to be established, and everyone has to process that,” he said.
“I never got the impression from the voters that there was an unlimited budget to do a renovation addition,” he said. “There’s a desire for a renovation addition,” but he questioned if voters would stomach a lofty price tag.
“Are we going to feel fiscally responsible going to the voters with $50 million, or do we feel fiscally responsible going to the voters with $40 million?” he asked.
Chapdelaine went on to say, “If we go down an ideal [road] of a full gut job, do the right thing by the building, build the appropriate square footage that the education plan requires, and we’re back north of $50 million, my instinct, my research with members of the community, said there will be a third school building committee, and this will get pushed off again …”
At their meeting next week, the committee and Tisbury School Principal John Custer will lead a tour of the school for those interested.
The current work of Tappé, Daedelus, and the building committee comes after Tisbury lost out on a new $46.6 million school by 21 votes. Tisbury voters approved a new school at the 2018 annual town meeting by a vote of 316 to 99. But shortly afterward, by a vote of 546 in favor and 567 opposed, Tisbury voters defeated the new school at the ballot box. In defeating the school, Tisbury voters also rejected $14.6 million in state aid that would have reduced the cost of the school to $32 million. Selectman Tristan Israel came out against the project, selectman Melinda Loberg did not take a position and abstained from a board vote to endorse the new school, and selectmen Larry Gomez threw his support behind it.
Amidst the Great Depression, committee member Rita Jeffers said, the people of Tisbury decided to build a new school that dwarfed the schoolhouse it replaced. “So I think [in] 2020, we could come up with a creative way to make this project happen, and as a town we could stand behind it and say we did that,” she said.