Tisbury School vote likely put off until spring

Building committee says pandemic is standing in the way of a town meeting.

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The Tisbury School project likely won't go to voters until next spring. - Rich Saltzberg

The $53.2 million Tisbury School renovation and addition project appears to be headed to voters in the spring, because an outbreak of COVID-19 on the Island is preventing public forums on the proposed project and the ability to hold a special town meeting in December, building committee chairman Harold Chapdelaine said at a school building committee meeting Wednesday.

If the project is approved by voters this spring, construction could begin in the fall and finish by the fall of 2023 or January of 2024, Chapdelaine said.

School officials had talked about having public forums at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center next month, but Chapdelaine said with the surge in cases on the Island, that doesn’t seem possible. The building committee and its consultants will now look for ways to continue to engage the public, answer questions, and try to gain momentum for next spring.

“Certainly COVID is having an impact on that,” Chapdelaine said of the projected timeline. “If we don’t have a special town meeting date, if we don’t have a town meeting date, how do we approach public presentations? Even if we schedule one, given the influx in our COVID numbers, can we even have it?”

Christina Opper, a representative of Daedalus, the owner’s project manager, suggested having meetings once a month to present the project and answer questions about it.

The project architect, Tappé, is also talking about putting together videos to show the building as is, and what’s planned in the addition and renovation project. The building committee will have a meeting focused on the site plan on Dec. 14. 

The school building committee held its own session Wednesday, followed by a joint meeting with the finance committee. The building committee session was held to nail down which committees in town should hear a presentation on the project. Later, the finance committee heard how the building committee looks to keep costs down and which parts of the project — the playground and solar panels — can be done with outside funding.

Jim Rogers, who represents the Tisbury select board on the building committee, said Vineyard Wind has made promises to the town based on Tisbury’s support of a facility for offshore wind on Beach Road at the Packer property. “They’re making a substantial, multimillion-dollar investment in the downtown area of Tisbury,” he said. “They came to us a long time ago and asked us, What else can we do? And one of the things we asked them for is solar on the Tisbury School. They’re more than likely going to do that.”

Rogers said the town’s energy committee is aware of the talks with Vineyard Wind. He added that Tisbury has reached its “solar saturation point,” which means Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) won’t provide credits that the town would normally get. He said town administrator Jay Grande is working with MassCEC to work things out.

Because the building committee is looking at going the route of a construction manager at risk rather than the public bidding process, the price tag is higher, but can start sooner, and will allow the town to pick a construction company without relying on the lowest bidder. The town could still opt to go with a low bidder, but the $53.2 million assumes the construction manager at risk process.

During the first meeting, the school building committee voted to authorize Chapdelaine to schedule meetings with the planning board and historic commission, though there was some discussion over what purview the planning board has over the project.

Officials also discussed temporary classroom space. Rogers said he continues to discuss purchase of the EduComp building in Vineyard Haven. Other locations are also being explored.

During the meeting with the finance committee, building committee members and their consultants answered a wide range of questions from why the stairs are being demolished in the existing school to why the construction manager at risk process is being pursued. They also mentioned that the $53.2 million estimate only accounts for about $2 million for relocating students during the construction, because Dadaelus assumed some students could be relocated to the high school building, as they were during the lead remediation work last year.

School officials in Tisbury would prefer not to split up the student body.

Architect Chris Blessen explained where costs have been cut — reducing the size of the gym, cafeteria, and music rooms, for example.

At one point, building committee members reflected on what might happen if the project fails to win the support of taxpayers.

Chapdelaine said it would be tough to rally a third building committee after many members of the committees have worked on both projects. He said it would be difficult to get volunteers to put in the kind of hours it takes, only to have voters not support the work.

“I think it’s dire straits if this fails,” he said.

Rogers pointed out there are real problems with the existing Tisbury School that aren’t going away. “We have a real dilemma if this fails, because we have real problems there,” he said.

Nancy Gilfoy, chair of the finance committee, praised the building committee’s work. “I want to commend the committee; I think you guys have done a great job,” she said. “The presentation you made a month ago was really impressive.”