Rush to judgment

The Tisbury School Building Committee should have sent its architectural firm, Tappé, back to the drawing board after renderings were recently unveiled for an addition and renovation of the West William Street building.

Instead, with little or no feedback from school families or taxpayers, because it’s difficult to get them engaged in Zoom meetings and what feels like a rush to get the final plans to voters, they’ve plowed ahead with the understanding that the designs could be tweaked moving forward. It’s a recipe for another failed vote, and more years in a building that’s not suitable to house students and staff.

Let’s start with what they’re calling the “administrative wing,” an addition where the new main entrance to the school would be located. It looks like if you put snow on it, it could be used as a ramp for an X Games snowboarding competition. In other words, the slanted roof in no way fits in with the existing school building. 

“It does seem like a section of the building we haven’t talked about much,” Peter Gerheart, an architect representative on the committee, said, striking a diplomatic tone during the committee’s last meeting. “I think architecturally, I would have a number of issues with a number of pieces of it. But if the group wants to move forward, I’d be OK with that.”

When the member of the committee appointed specifically to review the architecture is saying he’d “be more comfortable if we had more time to work on some of them” — that’s not good. “I guess I just don’t really know what the urgency is at this point, outside of the original schedule, which I think was supposed to wrap up by now, or at least look to a special town meeting in the fall. I don’t know how many chances the town is going to get to do this,” Gearhart said.

Despite those comments, no one hit the pause button, and in fact, chairman Harold Chapdelaine pushed for a vote. It all has the feel of putting the cart before the horse.

Earlier, an open bridge designed over the cafeteria was discussed. Rachel Orr called it an “attractive nuisance,” and Reade Milne raised concerns about what students might do on that bridge, such as throwing things off the edge toward the cafeteria below. These types of things are never a good idea in a school setting.

Beyond the designs and their need for tweaks, we wonder who is the voice of reason on this committee and project. The board voted 8-0 to press ahead, despite the reservations expressed by Gearhart, Milne, and Orr. Orr abstained, citing the lack of time to review the renderings.

Two years ago, voters rejected a $46.6 million new school project that came with a $14 million reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority and a lot more community input — in part because that building committee wasn’t dealing with an ongoing pandemic, and despite public pleas, few others have joined Zoom or used the opportunity to make comments during the meetings.

The option on the table now has been estimated at $56.7 million, though Tappé is working up more concrete numbers in the next few weeks. And thus far, there is zero money from the state or anyone else to help foot the bill. The select board has authorized town administrator Jay Grande to discuss ways to fund the project and grant opportunities with a financial consultant. If there has been anything remotely fruitful from those discussions, Grande hasn’t made them public, and up until two weeks ago, he didn’t even have the town’s finance director involved in those talks.

We still have a dream that school officials will find a new location where they can build a school, and turn the Tisbury School into much-needed housing. Renovating old school buildings into apartments is something that’s been done successfully in Bourne, where the Coady School now has 58 one- and two-bedroom apartments overlooking the Cape Cod Canal for residents 55 and older. In Sandwich, the town has entered into an agreement with a developer to create 43 apartments for seniors from the former Henry T. Wing School, according to the Sandwich Enterprise.

Housing for older folks looking to downsize, but stay on the Island, is in short supply. This would be an ideal spot for such a public-private partnership, because of its proximity to the town center, the senior center, and the business district on State Road.

Perhaps the Tisbury School building committee can rally support for this project over the next several weeks as it holds in-person community forums and tweaks the designs, and the select board announces its ideas on ways to ease the burden on property taxpayers.

We have our doubts anyone is going to get overly excited about the look of the building or its price tag.