Tisbury School panel approves designs

Architect promises a more detailed budget and public forums on school renovation and addition.

Tappe's rendering of the southeast view of Tisbury School.

The Tisbury School Building Committee voted 8-0 to move forward with Option 3, a decision that will allow Tappé Associates to get a more detailed cost estimate for the renovation and addition project.

The vote comes less than a week after schematic drawings were released publicly. Committee member Rachel Orr abstained from the vote, saying she needed more time to consider the designs. “I really would have appreciated a heads-up that this meeting was intended to be a final vote to bless this and send this to voters,” she said.

Though other committee members raised specific questions about the designs, architect Chris Blessen said the designs can still be tweaked. “We’re trying to say, this concept, this scheme as a schematic design, accomplishes our educational program, accomplishes the square footage we need, and gives us the shell around that encompasses what we need to enclose those spaces for a New England school,” he said.

The initial estimate on Option 3 was $56.7 million, though the architect has reduced the size of the cafeteria, gymnasium, and some specialty rooms.

Among the issues brought up by committee members and the public were the design of the administrative wing, which will be the new entrance to the school, the openness of the media center, the location of the cafeteria, and a bridge over the cafeteria that Orr called an “attractive nuisance.”

She wasn’t alone. Committee member Reade Milne also expressed reservations about the bridge. “Personally, I really, really don’t like that bridge at all,” she said. “My son’s going to drop things off of it, and try to jump off of it, and try to throw his friends off of it, and many other things. That bridge makes me feel nervous.”

Committee member Jim Rogers, who represents the select board, said he likes the openness of the bridge. He said it would be up to administrators to discipline anyone who used it inappropriately.

During the two-hour-plus Zoom meeting, planning board member Ben Robinson asked when the public would have more input into the designs, and Anna Edey criticized the location of the cafeteria, saying it lacks natural light.

“I’m just suggesting, for God’s sake, let’s put the kids in the sun with the plants and everything. Let’s not put them in the middle of the dark school, the darkest place in the school. That would be unconscionable,” she said.

Students only spend 18 minutes in the cafeteria, board member Michael Watts said.

Edey also criticized the lack of solar energy planned thus far, but Blessen said there’s limited roof space, so other ideas, such as putting solar panels over the parking lot, will need to be considered.

In answer to Robinson, board chairman Harold Chapdelaine said there have been opportunities for public input along the way, and there would be in the future. As for the cafeteria location, he told Edey that’s something that was looked at by the committee, and has been settled as the best location given other constraints of the renovation process.

Once they have cost estimates — sometime in mid-October — the building committee wants to hold in-person forums with Tisbury residents to show them the plans and get feedback. Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, that’s a challenging concept, Chapdelaine said.

The idea of holding forums where some officials would be available via Zoom to answer questions was discussed. Orr suggested using the drive-in concept, and Watts has been given the job of seeing if the tent at MVRHS could be used for a gathering.

The building committee plans to meet next Monday, Sept. 28, to finalize those details.

Ultimately, the building committee wants to get the school project into the hands of voters at a yet-to-be-scheduled special town meeting. The project also needs approval from voters at the ballot box, because it will ultimately be a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion. Two years ago, voters approved a $46.6 million new school at town meeting, then rejected it at the polls by 21 votes. That project, a completely new school, was approved for $14 million in state reimbursement.

When a committee member suggested that this committee might fail in convincing voters, Rogers expressed disappointment with that suggestion.

“I’m disheartened to hear committee members say, well, maybe the third or the fourth committee will get this done. That’s not the direction I certainly want to see this go in, not the direction the school committee wants this to go in, and not the direction the board of select people wants to see this go in,” Rogers said. “We want a project that will pass, that the board is willing to endorse. Is it going to be expensive? Yes it is.”

He said the cost of the project would only increase if it’s not approved now. “If this concept doesn’t pass, if we come back again, I would be willing to bet we’re at $80 million by the time we get to a new concept with the cost of it and the number of years it would take,” he said.