To the Editor:
I feel gratitude every day for living in Vineyard Haven, this lovely little town filled with good people. My life intersects with so many of you in one way or another from time to time, and no matter how brief it may be, it lights up the day.
But our wonderful town is being torn apart. Despite all of us so sincerely wanting to finally provide the kind of school that our children and teachers and community need and want and deserve, there are differing views that make the fate of our school a hot and sharp topic. Comments abound on various media platforms, some brilliant, some nasty, all anonymous, from people apparently not daring or caring to put their name to their own words and opinions. We all know we must resolve this, because our children deserve a much better school, ASAP.
This is a letter of grave concern for us all, as well as a reminder that whatever we each would want for our school, for our children, teachers, community, economy, and environment, there is so much more that we all agree on than what we currently disagree on.
For instance —
- We probably would all agree that our school needs big repairs and improvements.
- And perhaps most of us also agree that our school needs to be expanded, to provide bigger and better spaces for cafeteria, kitchen, music, art, shop, gardening, nurse, preschool, afterschool safe place, etc.
- And many of us would agree that we would love a bigger gym/theater/auditorium.
- And, of course, we all agree that our school has to have air quality good enough to breathe without risking harm to our children.
- And we would all agree that we want our school to be capable of providing the best educational programs that will best prepare our children for the best job opportunities of tomorrow.
- And we probably all agree that we would like our school to cost no more than it has to cost, for construction and for operations and maintenance.
- And perhaps most of us would even agree that we would love a school that requires almost no heating oil and gas, and could therefore causes almost no carbon dioxide pollution.
- And we probably all agree that we are stunned by the 56.7 million dollar cost estimate for the Daedalus option.
- And I am sure I’m not the only one who is deeply concerned that Daedalus is the only option that we have ever been allowed to consider.
Yes, it is a fact that we have not had a chance to consider any other potential options, because the only options we have been allowed to see are what has been fed to us by Daedalus, via the state.
When asked why this is so, there seems to be one standard answer: Because the state tells us that any town expenditures over $300,000 can only be done by companies that have been qualified and approved by the state. This effectively rules out all of our own local, highly skilled designers, architects, engineers, builders, plumbers, electricians, etc. — because none of them could possibly afford the outrageous and onerous fees, conditions, and red tape that are required by the state.
But if we took a look at those state requirements, most of us would probably agree that there is no reasonable rationale for much of what the state requires — for instance, bonding and insurance coverage requirements utterly unaffordable for our small local companies, which therefore rule them out as bidders for any aspect of any of our own larger local town building projects.
In this case, we are talking about a relatively straightforward project: to repair, update, and expand our own local school. We are capable of deciding and doing what we think is best for our community. In fact, it seems logical that the best way to guarantee this is to make it our own local project, designed and built by our own best, and scrutinized and cheered on by our own local community. This could be a creative and educational experience for all, including our children.
Perhaps most of us would agree that these state requirements are unreasonable, and not at all in the best interest of our community, for today or for tomorrow. Many of us already understand that some of the regulations that the state requires us to follow are actually causing us grave harm. A prime example is the DEP Title 5 septic regulations, with which the state forces us, under penalty of huge fines, to put in ever more expensive septic systems that release ever more nitrogen, viruses, pharmaceuticals, and other harmful substances into our own ponds, estuaries, and drinking water (it’s all in my books).
The biggest task before us now is to find a way to overcome these harmful state regulations — we need lawyers to dig into “Home Rule” or “Community Self-Reliance” or whatever it may be called.
So, how much is $56.7 million, really? Here are just a couple of approximate examples for perspective:
- $56.7 million is almost as much as the initial projected cost of the entire new Woods Hole ferry terminal complex (which started at $60 million, and is now soaring past $90 million).
- $56.7 million is more than what it cost for our entire new hospital, including everything in it.
And here is a huge question: what will a $56 million dollar debt burden for the next 20 or 30 years do to our local economy?
Rough estimates indicate that the annual property tax for a modest Tisbury home would increase by roughly $1,200, and in order to pay for that, a modest income person would need to put in 48 hours additional hard work, every year, for the next 20 or 30 years. The taxes on high-value properties would rise by tens of thousands, and many of them are owned by people of limited means, barely able to afford to keep living in their old family homes and farms, even at today’s tax rates. Much of the debt burden will fall on our children over the next decades, and it is our responsibility to determine the best option in 2020.
Before any further work is done by Daedalus on behalf of our town, we need to and must look at other options. There is at least one other option, ready to consider, which will show how we can indeed build a far better school than the Daedalus option, for half the cost, which could be ready much sooner than the Daedalus option. At this point, I call it simply “The Better Option,” and propose it as a foundation from which we can, together, evolve the best school we can imagine.
I will soon get into more detail, with designs and calculations, and I look forward to positive discussions, comparing the pros and cons of the many ideas that I hope will come flowing in.
Sincerely, and with great hope that we keep this conversation going, and open to all members of our community, with emphasis on all that we can agree to agree on,