School price estimate expected Oct. 15

Modular classrooms may be a variable in cost calculations.

An estimate on the cost of renovating the Tisbury School is expected by Oct 15. — Rich Saltzberg

The Tisbury School Building Committee convened Monday night, and agreed to hold a joint meeting with the select board, school committee, finance committee, and members of the PTO to discuss final schematic designs for a renovation of the Tisbury School. The meeting was slated for Oct. 20 at 5:30 pm. 

A cost estimate is expected by Oct. 15, and the building committee plans to hold a meeting on Oct. 19 to explore that estimate and prepare for the joint meeting. Richard Marks, the owner’s project manager, told the committee he expected the price tag of the school to be lower than anticipated. The initial estimate was $56.7 million, but the project’s architect, Chris Blessen, has scaled down the gym, cafeteria, and a few other spaces. The figure committee member Jim Rogers, who is Tisbury select board chair, preferred to use was $55 million. Rogers said that was the figure he and a financial consultant have been using to explore bonding options. Marks waxed sanguine about a lower figure. 

“If anything, by the way, it is trending downward,” he said. “We’ve made the building a little bit smaller and the site a little simpler. So I do want to reassure people it’s unlikely they’re going to see a higher number, and in fact very highly likely it’s going to be a lower number.”

“Well, I will take that as encouraging,” committee chair Harold Chapdelaine said. 

Committee member Rita Jeffers, a kindergarten teacher at the school, expressed concern the estimate might not include the cost of alternative venues to teach students while the renovations are underway. Tisbury School students already had a taste of relocated learning when lead paint was discovered inside the school. Fourth graders and below were moved to the newest wing of the school for four months while the lead was remediated and other work was done. Fifth graders through to eighth graders went to the high school during that time. Children were allowed back to the school in December 2019. 

“It seems like we have forgotten about a really important price thing, and that is where are we putting these children while we’re renovating this building,” Jeffers said. Jeffers said parents have reached out to her, and said they want any cost estimate to include student relocation. 

Marks said previous estimates included $1.5 million in “project cost estimates for temporary facilities.” These estimates, he said, were “enough to probably cover half the school.” Marks went on to say, “In subsequent conversations I had with John Custer, he said that the high school was unlikely to be available for the older kids, the fifth or sixth through eighth. So we’ll have to increase that number. Unfortunately, if the strategy is to create a modular school, essentially a set of trailers on the site to have classroom space, we can do it. It’s done all the time. We’re doing it right now in Lincoln … but it was $4 million to house 300 children there. So we’re talking $3 to $4 million that will unfortunately be money that will only be used for that one- to two-year period, or 18-month period. So I think that the town should take a hard look with the school committee at any alternate facilities that could be used, because the cost of bringing in trailers is just so high, and their availability is still kind of low, because of the way these modular companies work. They don’t want to stock things, therefore they charge a high rental rate and they have a high depreciation. It’s an expensive route to go, so any other option people could come up with would be very helpful.”

Chapdelaine said he planned to put the issue on an upcoming agenda.

Asked by The Times if a calculation beyond the normal parameters for the number of modular trailers or scale of modular trailers would be necessary to accommodate students during the pandemic, Marks simply said, “Yes,” but did not indicate what the additional costs might be for doing so.

“I certainly hope we’re out of the pandemic by the time those trailers go down,” Rogers said.

“I’ll second that,” Chapdelaine said. 

Marks pitched holding a forum at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center a few weeks prior to whenever a special town meeting is slated to address the school. He said the center can be rented on Mondays and Tuesdays for $500 a day. He noted the facility features full audiovisual, “which is quite nice,” four wireless microphones, and a screen connected to a “high-quality” projector. The cap during the pandemic is 60 people, and T shirts on seats are used to mark social distancing spacing, he said. 

Marks suggested a forum could be held there at 10 am and again at 7 pm. He offered to cover the cost of renting the facility out of his contract. 

Chapdelaine said such generosity would be “appreciated by the town.”

Chapdelaine sought to illustrate to the committee the difference between the current phase of the project and the next phase of the project. He said he thought Blessen had clarified those differences at the last committee meeting. However, he said, “When I read the newspaper, it came to me that it may have never been clearly defined in a public way what that scope of services is …” 

He emphasized Tappé Associates, for which Chris Blessen works, was hired for the schematic design phase. 

“[The] schematic design stage is the very first portion of the design process,” he said. “The goal of schematic design stage is to settle on an overall concept for the project — transitioning from simply an idea to a workable and realistic concept. By the end of schematic design, two important factors of the project should be known. The first is scale of the project itself. During that stage, the owner and the architect work together to go over the goal of the project and the envisioned end result. The envisioned end result here is satisfying the education plan and the space needs assessment. The second key piece of information that should come out of the schematic design stage is the relationship between the parts of the project. As the schematic design process advances toward its conclusion, the relationship between different spaces within the final project, should become increasingly clear…”

“Coming out of that design process,” he continued, “we should be able to look at the project and understand what scale the project should be moving forward, what spaces will be inside the final building, and how they relate to one another. That is what Tappé has been contracted to do. And that is specifically what the contract says. After that, we move to design development.”

In that phase, he said, materials are selected, aesthetics are refined, interior and exterior spaces are more precise, and the types of equipment and systems are chosen. 

“I’m refreshing us with these definitions, because at times, some of us got into the design development phase and out of sync with our contract with Tappé,” he said. “Chris was always patient and most gracious during these periods, and afforded us considerable latitude. That, however, maybe is what has led to expectations by members, community, and the press, that a far more developed exterior would be available to us at this time. Again, that is not the scope of schematic design. These refinements, the refinements of design development, and many more, will be and must be vetted and reviewed after funding, and designed in what is clearly the design development phase. In my opinion, we as a committee have fulfilled that schematic design phase. And it is time to move forward on the design development phase, and getting this in front of the voters to see if we will receive the funding for that next step.”