Building committee goes with $56.7 million option

With emotions running high, Tisbury School panel considers whether to set a firm budget for the project.

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The Tisbury School Building Committee has picked an option to purse for a renovation and addition project. — Gabrielle Mannino

Updated 8:30 pm

Emotions were running high Monday night over how to proceed with the Tisbury School renovation-and-addition project, with the building committee’s chair, Rachel Orr, in tears as the meeting adjourned. In an 8-1 vote, with Orr the lone dissenter, the committee voted to move forward with Option 3 — the most expensive of the two options under consideration, at $56.7 million.

Present at the virtual meeting were the Tisbury School Building Committee, several professionals associated with the project, and a handful of members of the community, with the total participants around 35 during the course of the meeting. 

Orr had lobbied the committee to seek more public input before settling on a specific option. “If COVID had not happened, we would have had designated workshops where we would have presented options to the public,” she told The Times afterward. “But COVID has happened … there we are, and it’s difficult.”

The full committee is ready to move forward, and so now the architects will begin working on schematics to share with the committee and the public.

On Tuesday evening, the Tisbury select board voted unanimously to authorize town administrator Jay Grande to hire a financial consultant to help the town come up with a way to fund the project, including looking for grants.

Select board chairman Jim Rogers, who represents the board on the building committee, said he committed the select board’s help to find a way to do the project “without financially strapping the taxpayers.”

The financial consultant would look at ways to fund the school and other town projects — like a town hall and police station — with the least impact on the taxpayers, Rogers said. That would include looking at grants and other funding sources, he said.

Newly elected selectman Larry Gomez said he supports getting professional assistance. “I concur with the idea of Option 3, to move forward and not spin our wheels and be stagnant for another four or five months, and have our taxpayers wonder why we’re taking so long,” he said.

Tisbury finance director Jon Snyder said having someone research finance options is a good move. “That will take quite a bit of legwork to track down,” he said.

As for her emotions during Monday’s meeting, Orr said the project combined with the situation is taking its toll. “It’s stressful. We’re dealing with challenging dynamics. It continues to be hard for everyone,” she said. “[The project] requires a ton of time. To do meetings on Zoom is hard. For me personally, if I get too tired, I get emotional. I don’t have control over it.”

The world situation has added to the stress. “We’re in a pandemic, racial reckoning, and we’re trying to build a school at a time when our community remains divided,” Orr said.

Kevin Putney, a cost estimator, used CHA Consulting, formerly Daedalus Projects, revised the estimate ahead of the meeting. Richard Marks, a representative of CHA, the owner’s project manager, said the revisions did not “change the bottom line much.” Marks presented the estimates of two options during a meeting a week earlier. At that time, the total cost was $55.6 million, but with the adjustments, it rose to $56.7 million.

“This is not going to be the one and only estimate. We’re going to continue to refine this. We’re going to look at some options of cost reduction,” said Marks.

Some building committee members expressed reluctance at the estimated cost of the project ahead of the group’s ultimate vote. 

“I don’t feel comfortable with presenting the town with something that’s between $51 and $55 million,” said member Reade Milne. “I will continue to say that we need to give our design team a budget, and then we need to talk about what we’re doing. The town is not going to support $55 million.” Two years ago, voters in Tisbury rejected a new school project with an overall price tag of $46.6 million, which the state had agreed to pay $14.1 million of in a grant. “I don’t feel that it’s responsible for us to continue down this path when we know that $55 million is more than our community has said it wants to spend,” said Milne, though she ultimately voted in favor of Option 3.

Milne also expressed concerns over the group’s ability to come to consensus and communicate effectively. “I feel like we all have our own ideas and our own positions, and I’m struggling to feel like we are actually supporting each other and moving together as a unit,” said Milne.

Several meeting attendees reflected on the driving philosophy behind the project, and behind what pricing may be appropriate to present to the community.

“Projects can either have one of three main criteria. They can either be cost-, schedule-, or program-driven. This one has been program-driven for the past six months,” Marks said. 

“The select people need to find a way to find a budgetary process, even at this cost, and not kill the taxpayer,” said Jim Rogers, Tisbury select board’s representative to the committee. “I really think for the sake of the community, for the sake of the students, and for the sake of education, that you cannot have the budget drive the project. The project must drive the budget.”

Committee member Harold Chapdelaine referred to the proposed gymnasium renovation as a “chess piece,” emblematic of a broader question regarding how the project, given the proposed cost, can best serve both the school and the greater community at the same time. 

As discussed in last week’s meeting, the main 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 larger gym is built.

Marks added that in order to bring down the cost of the project, the building committee and others would have to examine the possibility of cuts to already existing programs. “Could we get 2 or 3 million out with reasonable cuts in the site work? Yes, but then we’re still going to be over 50. If that’s the magic number, then we’ll have to look at significant cuts in the educational program, which is things like music, pre-K, a smaller gym. Significant cuts, not just little cuts,” said Marks.

Several members addressed a desire to compromise and work out growing tensions in vision in order to deliver a successful project to the community.

“There is no such thing as a perfect project,” said Tisbury School Principal John Custer. “No one gets everything they want, simply put … We need a successful project, but there is no such thing as a perfect project.”

Committee members held different views on whether the implementation of a budget would have guided, or will be able to guide, the committee’s work effectively.

“Our charge was renovation-addition. I certainly was one who advocated for an early budget. The committee made a decision not to go there. I understand that. I do think, in retrospect, a budget in front of the committee may have hamstrung our ability to meet the education plan,” said Chapdelaine, as he reflected over the direction of the project moving forward. “As tough as the number is, we all have a lot of work to do to find a path to make one of these plans meet the education goals of the community,” said Chapdelaine.

Other members advocated for the implementation of a budget at this point in the process. “We need to have a plan we can show to the public, we need to have a budget we can show to the public, and we need to have an effect we can show to the public,” said Rogers.

“If it’s going to be in the $50 million range, we should do our very best to present value to the town,” Orr said. “Given the level of investment we are asking the town to make, we should work really hard to present [something] really good.”

Orr grew emotional when speaking passionately about wanting to deliver the best possible plan to the town. She also spoke to ongoing conflicts between members of the group as creating challenges to delivering on the project. “I think that, to move forward, we have to trust and appreciate one another,” she said.

Chapdelaine spoke positively about Orr’s leadership, and discussed a path forward for the committee. “We have to be willing to voice our opinions, give our analysis, and take the criticism with grace and, hopefully, always with the intent that the group has got one goal in mind,” he said.

Chris Blessen, a principal of Tappé, the project’s architect, went room by room through the particular aspects of each plan. The diagrams of each plan are available on the school project website.

Several members of the public weighed in with their views on the proposals.

“It seems there’s a level of complication that is being entered into here that, for me, doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense,” said Dan Seidman, who served on a previous building committee. He referenced a plan he previously submitted for modular renovations. “I don’t understand why an idea that was previously submitted was not presented,” said Seidman. He also offered to resubmit his proposal to the committee.

Angie Francis spoke to her desire for a design review presented to the public. “It could be a mistake to forge into schematic design without a strong foundation on which to build those plans in the next stage of development,” said Francis, who along with her husband is a licensed architect. “We want to be helpful, we care deeply about the project, and want it to be successful.”

Committee members tried to keep the focus on the projects presented. “This is not a community-design project where everybody comes in and submits their ideas about it,” Milne said. “This is us, steering the ship, and looking for input from the community.”

“By endorsing a concept, it doesn’t mean we’re telling the voters and the taxpayers, ‘That’s all we’re going to offer you,’” said Rogers, who previously has also advocated for picking a single option to present for public response. “This is not the end of discussion with the public. It’s the beginning of the discussion with the public on what we’re proposing,” said Rogers. 

Orr concluded the meeting with a proposal to hold a public meeting sometime in the near future to gauge public opinion on the proposal. 

The meeting was recorded, and is available at tisbury-school-project.com

 

George Brennan contributed to this report. Updated to include a vote by the select board to seek a financial consultant to help with financing the project.

51 COMMENTS

  1. Just combine with either Oak Bluffs or West Tisbury’s school system and save 100 million by the time it is all done. Tisbury does not need its owns school. The number of new children will be decreasing over the next 20 years.

      • If you consider the entry level house price is now $600,000, the Island will see a rapid decrease in new younger families living or moving here over the next ten years. The same house would be $375,000, or less, off Island in most places.

        • There are 2 40B plans in the works, IHT is building more affordable housing in Tisbury. I suppose these will be deed restricted to childless people? What about families that fled cities to escape Covid and don’t go back? Or pandemic babies. We can’t put our collective heads in the sand and think our child population will magically drop.

          • As people realize the fact that the oceans will continue to rise as they warm and the polar ice caps melt, which means that we, on the Vineyard, will soon be facing HUGE infrastructure costs, such as raising the ferry terminals and the OB-Edg road, and our beaches will continue to shrink and disappear, worsening erosion will require houses to be moved back, or be engulfed by the sea. People will realize that storms will worsen and the the ferries will become even more unreliable, and expensive. The ticks will continue to sicken us with ever more dangerous diseases, the cost of living here will continue to be 19% higher (MV Commision) than on the mainland – these are some of the factors that will make people wonder: perhaps the Vineyard is no longer a wise option. Fewer houses will be built resulting in fewer construction jobs. This is why there will be fewer and fewer children in our schools (again, go to MV Commission).

    • Every elementary school student deserves to be able to go to a school in their town.
      It is very nearly State law through the eighth grade.

      What makes you think that Oak Bluffs or West Tisbury would want to sully their newish schools with students from that shabby Tisbury school?
      How much should Oak Bluffs or West Tisbuy be compensated for Tisbury’s avoided capital costs?.

    • Response to the “public trust” comment from June 30, 4:48 pm: I think young children are probably better off in a school of 300 instead of doubling up to 600. And what would it cost to double the size of WT School to accommodate an additional 300 children from VH?

    • They should’ve have voted for the plan that had $14 million in state reimbursement then. When has building something on this island ever gotten cheaper? It will only cost more going forward.

    • Not only is the latest Tisbury school design shamefully incompetent (I know not whether by Daedalus’s lazy sloppiness or their ignorance), but, it also has the most ludicrously ridiculous pie-in-the-sky price tag (let’s not forget: the higher the price tag, the more they earn – check it out if you don’t believe me). $57,600,000! This is what that tax burden would do to Our Town: it would raise property taxes on a modest VH home ($600,000) by approx. $1200 every year, for the next 20-30 years. What will a retired person have to give up in order to be able to pay out an additional $1200 for taxes, annually? And, a person with modest income, say, $25/hr (after taxes), would need to put in an additional 48 hours of hard work in order to pay for that tax hike, every year for the next 20-30 years – that’s an additional six 8-hour days of hard work, for the next 20-30 years. This is the legacy that some folks in Our Town are now racing to nail down and leave to our kids. Food for thought.
      And, do you know that in all this time, the Tisbury School Building Committee have been listening to only 1 entity, Daedalus, and have refused to even consider any other proposals. I know, because my proposal was one of several that they refused to consider, again and again, from the beginning. (And do you know that Daedalus was re-hired for this second round, in spite of having been fired from the first round, for incompetency – whaaat?!)
      I will soon start to present my proposal, which will provide a far better school, at half the cost, with far less disruption to our children and teachers, and completed within half the length of time projected by Daedalus. Stay tuned.

      • This is a joke right? My abs had a nice workout from being doubled over with laughter by your comment. Parents of school age children are not interested in your cheap plans. Do you care to share where you earned your credentials as an architect? Do you have any qualifications whatsoever? I beg you to just be honest. You will not vote for the proposed Reno/addition because you are a cheapskate. Please stop pointing fingers at the TSBC and be candid. Your ideal scenario is to do absolutely nothing related to improving the Tisbury School because it won’t cost you a cent. Parents of school age children are invested in a project that will last for multiple generations not some “ham & egg” job because it appeals to your thriftiness. Sit down and let the experts do what they were hired to do.

        • Finnegan this is not about architectural degrees or being a cheapskate. This is about 57 million dollars being amortized over a small population in the form of higher taxes. Many people cant afford to live here already lest pay more taxes and they darn sure think that towns could amalgamate and have students share empty schools rather than each town having its own school. Thinking about a practical solution is what is on taxpayers minds.

        • Oh dear Finnegan (from July 5 at 11:51 am) – I’m glad that I could at least help you have a good laugh.
          You ask about my credentials – here is what makes me uniquely qualified to speak about this project: since the early 1980s, my innovative Solviva Solar-Green Designs and many applications have been widely acknowledged as among the most advanced and successful ever, anywhere (please google it, and look at both of my books).
          My deep knowledge is what makes me quick to recognize bad design.
          The fact is that the Daedalus Option is full of Really Bad design, which so obviously displays their deep ignorance regarding comfort, health, air-quality, energy efficiency and solar design, and even education – and I must say that I am discouraged that not more people in Tisbury are willing or able to recognize this, and call them out on it. I have spoken up several times, but no follow-up discussion has been allowed by the Building Committee or Daedalus.

          So, yes I have a Proposal, which, for now, i am calling “The Better Option”.
          I invite you to get comfortable, breathe slow and deep, and think carefully about what I will now reveal.

          The primary part of this “Better Option Proposal” is a new building, 3 floors, totalling 17,000 sq.ft., attached to the school via the existing entryway on the west side:
          – 5000 sq.ft. on the upper floor, for Art/Shop/Makerspace,
          – plus 5000 sq.ft. on the ground floor, for Cafeteria/Kitchen, Cooking Classes, After-school Drop-in Center,
          Community Events …
          – plus 5000 sq.ft. sunlit basement (community emergency shelter, music, video production…)
          – plus 2000 sq.ft. for elegant and safe primary entryway, with spacious full-access ramps.
          Total Conditioned Space: 17,000 sq.ft..
          Built custom modular to highest standards, like the new Featherstone Art Center (built a couple of years ago for less than $250/ft), this new addition may cost less than $400/sq.ft. – which adds up to 4.6 million dollars.
          Breathe.
          This new addition liberates roughly 3000 sq.ft. of space on the ground floor in the current school (the space currently occupied by the Caferteria/Kitchen and Art/Shop) – that’s 3000 sq.ft. new space, easy to re-purpose for new class rooms, or whatever seems most needed.
          In addition, I propose a long 2000 sq.ft. “screened porch”, providing 1500 sq.ft. of open-air classroom space, with protection from UV and mosquitos, plus a 500 sq.ft. real solar greenhouse (or 1000 sq.ft.?) at one end, plus gardens in the wide space between these two buildings.
          Both buildings have single-plane roof tilting 25 degrees (or 30?) toward the sun, which, together, hold 10,000 sq.ft. of flat-laid PV panels, which will produce roughly 200,000 kWh of carbon-free electricity annually, seemingly for the next 30 years or longer, requiring hardly any maintenance (the whole school has been consuming roughly 200,000 kWh annually).
          Breathe.
          The PV can be financed 100% by investor(s), who could make a secure income of some $40,000/year by selling those 200,000 kWh to the School/Town (at discount price!) – this may provide a quite decent Return-on-Investment, especially when considering that this seems like an unusually safe investment, whose value will go up in tandem with the rising cost of electricity. (Number-Crunchers please step in)

          In addition, The Better Option proposes to extend the west wall of the gym building by 12 feet, thereby adding 700 sq.ft. more space for the music room. This will certainly cost less than 1 million.

          Also, The Better Option proposes to add approx. 24 feet to the east wall of the gym, with an elegant entryway and lobby, level with the parking lot, with wide ramps providing universal access to the much expanded gym that provides the additional space that seems to be needed for the gym, for Town meetings and for Performances and other large Events. My guess is that this can be done with highest quality for less than 4 million. (Engineers, Architects, Builders, Number-Crunchers please step in)
          Breathe.
          Furthermore, every classroom needs excellent air-quality and temperature control – this is best done with individual-room ductless electric mini-splits for heating/cooling/humidity control, plus heat-exchange fresh air intakes, plus air-purifiers – roughly $20,000 for each room x 50 rooms = 1 million dollars.
          (By contrast, an earlier Daedlius estimate for renovating the HVAC system came in at $3,773,316, and that’s for a centralized system with hundreds of feet of interconnected ducts, far more likely to contaminate all the rooms with airborne virus, bacteria, allergens, dust, particulates. And such systems are far more complicated and expensive to maintain, requiring off-island expertise (just imagine that, please). On the other hand, Individual-Room HVAC systems are much less costly to install and to maintain – our own local professionals know how – and if one brakes down, it’s not the whole school.
          So, now we are up to 12 million dollars. (Please take notes and please help do the numbers)
          Next, it seems obvious that all or most of the windows and doors need to be replaced – Daedalus previous estimate for that was $5.3 million? Is that too high, like ev erything else they propose?
          Using their number, the total so far is up to 17.3 million.
          Then there is additional stuff that needs to be improved. $?
          I’m continuing to guesstimate $27 million, tops (which was also Tristan’s fly-by guesstimate, in Town Hall soon after the collapse of the previous proposal) – yes I believe we can make a GREAT school for $27 million, which is 50% less than current Daedalus proposal, and thus half the tax hike – IF we do it to our own local best ability, standards and scrutiny.
          The good ship “Real Solutions” is taking off toward our common Goal, for our community good: the best school we can imagine.
          Everyone is invited to join – especially all you skilled architects, engineers, renderers, illustrators, model-makers, inventors, builders, electricians, plumbers, individual-HVAC experts, PV and energy-efficiency experts, number-crunchers – step on in with whatever you can do to help evolve this Better Option Proposal toward the best we can imagine.
          That’s it for now – to be continued …

  2. How do we even know what education will look like in 5 years. COVID caused dramatic changes in the way we view everything. I have been working from home for 3 months and I had never worked from home before. My point is, by the time we pay this school off, it won’t be used as a school. I had two children graduate from Tisbury and I loved that school but they both struggled transitioning into MVRHS. Why aren’t we looking at a regional elementary school and a regional middle school? I am very concerned that if our taxes go much higher, our property values will suffer. Edgartown’s taxes are 1/3 of Tisburys. Where would you buy if you were moving here?

    • Will you pay to build 2 buildings big enough to house that many students? Where is that real estate available? Do you want to put your kindergartner from Aquinnah on the bus for the ride to OB everyday and back? You already have one superintendent and central services. That is called regionalization. Try living in the 340 other towns in Massachusetts with higher taxes. Some of them are renovating schools. Some are doing it with MSBA funds and some on their own but they are doing it despite having higher taxes than we do on island. How are they able to do it and we cannot?

    • Some people just want their elementary school children to go to a school in their town.
      If they live close enough to walk or ride their bikes.
      They want their kids to be in classes with kids from their neighborhood.
      They do not want their kindergarten children to spend over an hour a day on a bus.

    • We do not what is going to happen with Covid – 19 so we should do absolutely nothing?

      The point is that you have no idea what the Tisbury school needs will be in five years.
      You do know that the Tisbury school out of date, dilapidated, and too small.

  3. I am baffled. Why does town leadership & TSBC believe taxpayers will approve a $55 million dollar school when they vetoed a $30 million school (which didn’t include a $14million dollars floated to Tisbury by the State)?
    Second, where is the accountability of the 14 community members who published the Letter to the Editor “A New Suggested Size for the Tisbury School” that promised $11 million dollars in savings for taxpayers in order to encourage voters to vote down a new school. Rogers, Loberg, Israel, Orr, Robinson, to name a few. I would like each of them to address their effort to sabotage the new school with false promises.
    Sorry if I don’t have any empathy for your tears Ms. Orr.

  4. I wonder what I am missing here. In 2018 we had a fully developed plan for a new school, “shovel ready”, as they call such projects. It was going to cost 46.6 million . We could assume with inflationary increases of 5 % per year, that project would now cost $51 million. That’s about 6 million less than the current plan to put lipstick on a hundred year old building.
    Also, I don’t see anything in this article about what to do with the kids while this renovation is going on. I am sure there will be all sorts of significant cost associated with the logistics of that.
    And, we will have a year of a less than ideal learning environment for the students as construction occurs in the next room. If I remember correctly, the new school was to be built on a different part of the property and then the old school taken down, with little disruption to the students.
    Since we have that “shovel ready” plan for a new school, if some of the bureaucracy got out of it’s own way and did what they are hired to do, we could at least have some of the heavy site work done before opening day.

  5. I believe the reason the new school vote lost was because majority of voters believed 14 outspoken residents including town leaders that convinced them that they had plans for a renovation/addition that would be significantly cheaper than the new school. They lied. People vote with their wallets. Take a straw poll please. I believe if residents today were presented with Option A: A new school for $44 million or Option B: A renovation/addition for $55 million then Option A would win by a landslide. The students wouldn’t be forced to learn in sardine can size trailers on the playground for an unknown period of time. It’s the same players and the same toxic dynamics at play. The Reno/addition project is another Hail Mary pass. Please stop wasting precious time & money when you all know this won’t fly.

    • Some of us do indeed have proposals that offer a far better school, offering much more relevant education, costing many millions less, and with far less disturbance for our children and the teachers – BUT, this TSBC has from the beginning been refusing to considered any other proposals, looking only at what Daedalus was feeding them – even though Daedalus failed miserably the first time around, and the Town fired them for incompetency, after spending $500,000 of our tax money for a shamefully incompetent design, by Daedalus. Think about it, dear fellow Tisbury tax payers.
      Stay tuned as we very soon begin to reveal our proposals – not through the “legally required” State Bureaucracy /Daedalus filter, but instead directly to you, Tisbury taxpayers, via all available platforms, including the MV Times. Never forget that it is State Bureaucracy that continues to force us to put in Title 5 septic systems, and by now most of us know what that is continuing to do to water, our ponds and our economy.
      It’s time for us to stand up for our rights: “Home Rule”, “Local Self Reliance”, “Town Self-Determination”.

  6. I agree that we are fortunate to have lower taxes than other towns in MA however, our prices are high here and for families that move here, they would be able to to buy in any other town on the island and get more for their money. So if Tisbury spends 50 million on a new school what is to stop Edgartown or Chilmark residents from choosing to send their children here? I realize the “R” word has not been popular in the past but it’s time we put all options on the table. I also think we really need a middle school as well.

    • Why does everyone want a middle school. Do the math. 450 kids. Minimum 60 million to build that school. And you need another administration, nurse, janitors, bus routes, etc. And what do you get for that. A few more kids vaping at a younger age? You still have to have infrastructure for all the other kids. Oh yeah. Where would you be building the regional middle school? OB doesn’t have the – wastewater capacity.

      • I remember When America Was Great.
        Kids smoked.
        They got to suck in all those chemicals that the tobacco companies thought would increase their sales.
        Would you be more comfortable if kids got more than just nicotine when they inhaled.
        I know I would .

  7. It is head-scratchingly bizarre how–in a state which is literally FULL of schools–we continue to treat this like a custom project.

    1) Find a school someone else built.
    2) Copy it.
    3) Hire the firm who built it.

    • Every town is different, every school is different.

      What school do you suggest that Tisbury copy?
      How much did it cost to build?
      How much will it cost to build in 2020?
      How much will it cost to build in Tisbury in 2021?

      If building a school is as easy as you say it is why doesn’t the State just issue one set of plans that all schools must use?

    • Which town are you asking to double the size of their school? School choice is only if there is space. No island school has space to absorb another school. Back to building or renovation and addition. Same challenge in every school on the island.

    • Does West Tisbury want all of the Tisbury students?
      Do they have the space?
      Will they have to put on an addition?
      How much will that cost?
      Will Tisbury pay all of the building and maintenance costs?

  8. I am aghast at the cost.
    Is this the best that Marx/Daedelus can do after they failed so miserably in the previous go-round?
    Rachel Orr has done yoeman duty as head of this committee in an attempt to give the town a viable option to what Daedalus came up with before. The options for a project manager were limited and Daedalus was the best on offer. But they have betrayed the town’s citizens yet again.
    Why has the committee voted for the most expensive option that tears down the gym?

    When the original school was built the project, in the planning stage for a number of years, WAS BUDGET AND PROGRAM DRIVEN. It is a false dichotomy to say that now the school has to be only program-driven, and damn the budget. The original school was built within the budget the town could manage, and the gym was built ten years later, when the town could afford that.

    It would not surprise me if the voters turn this down again. I simply cannot believe that a much cheaper plan is not possible.
    The architects should have been given a budget and a list of priorities.
    End of story.
    I also do not understand why committee members who are against Option 3 nevertheless vote for it.
    This is a sad outcome. This does not reflect the spirit in which the committee adn its leader started out to tackle this issue.
    The Town should not be surprised if Rachel decides to let someone else take over.

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