The town could pay as much as $10 million more for a renovation/addition project at Tisbury School than a completely new building would have cost two years ago, according to estimates provided during a Tisbury School Building Committee meeting held via Zoom Monday night.
The school building committee has narrowed its focus to two building designs, known as Option 1 and Option 3. On Monday they got their first look at how much those two designs could cost, as they prepare to present a plan to voters at a fall special town meeting. There are three options altogether, but the board got cost estimates on two of them, and some members were surprised to find there’s not a wide discrepancy. Option 1 would cost $51.1 million overall ($39.9 million for construction), and Option 3, $55.6 million ($43.8 for construction). Other costs include design costs, and miscellaneous costs like permitting, furnishings, and contingencies.
“There’s a reason it’s called an estimate,” said Richard Marks, who presented the numbers on behalf of Daedalus Projects, which serves as the owner’s project manager. He noted that inflation could affect the numbers: “It’s not a final number.”
Marks said he’s not expecting a big jump in construction costs due to inflation, because of the ongoing pandemic.
There is a hurdle that the committee will have to overcome. The price is higher than a new school would have cost in 2018. At that time, voters rejected a $46.6 million new school by 21 votes. In doing so, they also turned aside $14 million in state reimbursement for the project.
Jim Rogers, who represents the select board on the building committee, said he’ll ask the board at its June 30 meeting to hire a consultant to delve into the financial details and look for grant opportunities and any other relevant programs. “I think it’s important to have that information — not what the total price is, but what the total effect is on the taxpayer,” said Rogers.
Some committee members expressed surprise there wasn’t more of a difference between the estimates. “When I compare [Option] 1 to [Option] 3,” said Harold Chapdelaine, committee member, “I look at how [Option] 3 serves the community, and as much as the number is huge, I see value. I don’t think the numbers in reality are all that different from the numbers we looked at three years ago.”
The major difference between the two proposals is where the gymnasium is located. In Option 1, it’s relocated and expanded, and the existing gym is turned into a cafetorium. In Option 3, the existing gym and music room are demolished, and a new, larger gym is built, at grade level with the parking lot.
Michael Watts, who represents the school committee on the building committee, said he was also struck that the cost differences are not as large as he expected. He mentioned that Option 3 is a more energy-efficient plan, as well. “I want to reiterate that I was not originally a big supporter of Option 3 until I looked at the flow diagrams,” he said.
Rogers said he supports Option 3 for the traffic flow flexibility and improved amenities for students it provides. “I’m even more in favor of Option 3 than I was before now, when I look at the cost comparison,” said Rogers. “There are issues that we need to flesh out, but overall, I thought the estimates were pretty much where I thought they were going to be.”
Chris Blessen, a principal of Tappé, the project’s architect, said there needs to be a focused path forward. “We need to move the needle a little bit to get to the option we want to study through schematic design,” he said. He said the schematic design process will allow for a more detailed study of the logistics and financial breakdown.
While Chapdelaine and some other committee members seemed ready to move forward with Option 3, building committee chair Rachel Orr hit the pause button, saying that was not on the agenda. She plans to put it on the agenda for Monday at 5, but would like the public to have the opportunity to weigh in. In a brief interview after the meeting, Orr said it’s been difficult for parents to stay engaged with the project, because they are juggling things like working from home and remote learning during the pandemic.
The committee discussed how to get the public more involved.
Nevette Previd, a member of the PTO who is part of a communications working group, said they are working on frequently asked questions to provide information to the wider community. The FAQs will be available on the committee’s website. Christina Opper, a representative of Daedalus, said the building committee’s homepage is undergoing updates to make more information front and center for curious members of the public.
During the meeting, Orr spoke about the potential to hold hybrid meetings, where the committee meets in person (while following the limits on in-person gatherings) and holds a livestream for people to tune in and interact with the committee on the plan.
“I think in the COVID-19 world, it has been really hard for people to participate. It’s been hard for them to even know that we’ve been in business. We’ve had almost no press coverage,” said Orr. “This is something that our town is very passionate about … To not even ask before we make a decision, if they have any real thoughts or comments, to give them no time to look at the numbers or to reflect on the plans, is wrong.”
She also expressed the need to hear from the school’s abutters. “We’ve had nothing from the neighbors, and they’re the ones who are living in the neighborhood and would be living with all of these changes most directly. I am concerned about them,” she said.
Rogers and others said it’s the committee’s role to pick a concept to present. “The whole thing is going to be vetted by the public eventually, as you know. Without public consent, the project goes nowhere. I’m comfortable with recommending options,” he said.
Committee member Reade Milne said the public has already made it clear they want a renovation/addition project. “I certainly don’t want this to sound like I am not interested in public input,” said Milne. “I think it’s much more valuable for us to home in on one idea.”
During public comment, Ben Robinson, a member of the town’s planning board, urged the board to ask questions about why the cost estimates are so close in price. “I would take off the rose-colored glasses that everyone seems to be wearing, and really dig into this,” he said. “I want to see a successful project. That’s first and foremost. I think you, as a committee, really have to consider what it takes to get to a successful project in this town and in this state.”
Robinson pointed out the hurdle the committee is facing with the price. “Now is the opportunity to look at this with a critical eye, before you pick an option and move into schematic,” he said.
Anna Edey shared her concern that there has been no open forum in which community members can share their concerns on the project. “I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been very strongly thinking on what we can do with this school, but we have not been heard,” she said. “Nobody on the Island has been heard, other than through the filter of these professional, off-Island companies … We can do something much, much simpler for much less money.”
Marks replied that the group will do a clear qualitative and quantitative comparison between the two options.
Orr said there are unanswered questions in the estimates, including how much it would cost to put solar panels on the school. “When I really went through the details, I had pages of question marks,” she said. Orr had questions about the costs involved in the site work for the two options.
Marks urged her and Tisbury resident Paul Lazes, who said he had several questions on the options, to put them in writing, and he would address them.
The public can see a comparison of the options at tisbury-school-project.com, and the community is asked to give feedback through firstname.lastname@example.org.