Updated at 5:30 pm
Lead paint remediation recently took place inside the Tisbury School. Town and school officials have expressed little interest in exploring how paint and other elements inside the building degraded over the years, and who is to blame. When asked by the Martha’s Vineyard Times about how such conditions could have gone unnoticed, and why some portions of the school still appear decrepit and potentially hazardous, Vineyard Schools Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said, “Mistakes were made,” but when asked, he declined to elaborate on what those mistakes were, and instead emphasized the school and the town have developed a new maintenance plan for the building, and are jointly looking to the future, not into the past.
The Times toured the school on Tuesday night during a School Building Committee tour, and found damaged and peeling paint remains evident throughout the interior. This is despite $262,345 worth of lead paint and asbestos remediation, and despite a recommendation by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that peeling paint found in the school should be considered lead-based, that it should be tested, and that it should be remediated. And also despite a notification that Tisbury health agent Maura Valley said she gave to school officials — that the school “can’t have peeling and chipping paint.”
D’Andrea didn’t participate in the tour, which was led by Tisbury School Principal John Custer. While not meant to spotlight paint in poor condition, the tour, which included about 15 people, nevertheless wound in and out of preselected spaces where peeling or flaking paint was observable on pipes, molding, doorframes, and radiators. In the cafeteria, through a missing suspended ceiling panel, peeling paint showed on the original ceiling higher up — an echo of the kind of paint problems previously remediated on walls and ceilings above suspended ceilings in classrooms. Observations made Tuesday follow a private tour The Times took through the school with Custer on Jan. 23. At that time, areas of damaged paint were also observed, including on pipes, a stairway, on walls, in an open closet, and on a door frame, among other places.
Selectman Jim Rogers, who is a member of the building committee, and who came directly from a selectmen’s meeting, arrived at the school just as the tour ended Tuesday night. When asked Wednesday if he had an opinion about decayed paint still being in the school, he said he planned to call Custer and take a look himself.
“They spent a great deal of time going through the school in December,” he said of contractors and inspectors. He suggested some of the damaged paint may have previously tested negative for lead.
D’Andrea responded to an email sent to him, Custer, Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande, and Tisbury School Committee chair Amy Houghton about failing paint inside the school, and pointed to Daedalus Projects, the school’s owners project manager, its subcontractors, and “local officials” who weren’t specified.
“The scope of work was determined by the owners project manager, the contractor, and [Universal Environmental Consultants],” he wrote. “Upon completion of the work, UEC certified that the scope of work was properly completed, and the building was cleared by local officials for occupancy. Moving forward, we will address areas in the building with peeling and chipping paint as they are identified.”
Daedalus Projects president Richard Marks could not be reached for comment. Project manager Joe Sullivan didn’t immediately return a voice message seeking comment.
Selectman Jeff Kristal couldn’t be reached for comment. Selectmen chair Melinda Loberg didn’t immediately return a voice message seeking comment. Valley emailed The Times to indicate she was on vacation, and could respond to questions when she returns.
In a Feb. 6 joint interview with D’Andrea, Houghton refused to answer questions about how upkeep might have failed at the school, and who might be responsible. She said she didn’t find it productive to look back, but instead wanted to focus on the future, and not get into “finger pointing.” D’Andrea said he wasn’t interested in looking into the past either, but later reached out and said, “We do [want] to go back, and we want to look at what’s been done in the past and what can be done better.” He said, “Mistakes were made,” and that he was responsible for some of them. When asked to elaborate on what those were, he said he’d “rather not.” However, he did say he and Custer were monitoring the maintenance at the school going forward. He also said cooperation and dialogue with Tisbury officials has improved. “We’re building a stronger, better relationship with the town,” he said.
In August, at a joint meeting of the selectmen, the school committee, and school officials where discussion of imminent lead and asbestos testing took place, along with what the ramifications of those tests might be, Rogers chalked up the state of the school to a bad golf shot.
“The concerns are legitimate, but it’s like getting a bad shot in golf,” he said. “If you think about that bad shot, you’re destined to hit another bad shot; all we can do now is go forward.”
An architect and an owners project manager have concluded little of the school is salvageable save for its brick shell, and even that may prove an expensive feat to shore up in adherence to modern building codes. Thus far, Tisbury voters want that shell preserved, as they deem it essential to the historic character of the school.
Last summer, following the death of a new school project at the ballot box, a reconstituted Tisbury School Building Committee began considering options for a combination renovation and addition project that incorporated the school’s original architectural elements. As that project continues to be explored, the school remains open and occupied by kindergarteners through eighth graders. Many of those students only recently returned, following emergency measures to mitigate lead paint and asbestos. Work designed to resuscitate the building’s dysfunctional ventilation system took place alongside those mitigation efforts. School officials expressed surprise in the wake of back-to-back 2019 reports from the Martha’s Vineyard Education Association (MVEA) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) that found the school leaked profusely, harbored peeling paint in classrooms and elsewhere, and was starved for fresh air, among other deficiencies indicative of a breakdown in maintenance. After being spurred to test for lead paint and asbestos by DPH, school officials maintained their surprise at results that necessitated temporarily relocating many of the students and sequestering the rest in the newest and least contaminated wing of the building.
As The Times reported in August, D’Andrea told an audience of fuming Tisbury School parents that lead pollution from paint and other hazards identified inside the school were recent revelations.
“To suggest that I knew, John Custer knew, [assistant superintendent] Richie Smith knew, is misinformation, and it’s insulting. We learned this last week,” he said at the time.
“I don’t know who it was a revelation to,” Loberg said in an earlier interview with The Times. “They’ve been saying old buildings like that…there’s always lead paint. And it’s not the problem of there being lead paint, it’s the problem of there being flaking lead paint. And so I think that was the revelation.”
Updated with new information from the superintendent of Vineyard Schools.