Temporary classrooms needed, but how many?

Tisbury School project is heading to voters in June; portable classrooms considered for West William Street.

A configuration concept for modular classrooms at 55 West Williams Street. —Courtesy Town of Tisbury

Updated Feb. 13

At a joint meeting of Tisbury’s school committee and select board Tuesday night, clarity was in short order, despite a proclamation by school committee chair Amy Houghton that the voters need clear information.

“Let’s make the information clear and available to anyone who lives in the town to understand why this project is so critical,” Houghton said.

Right after saying that, Houghton declined to solidify her sentiment in a motion. The joint Zoom session, which was heavily attended, took place as part of a regular select board meeting, one that stretched across three hours. Roughly half an hour of that time was devoted to the Tisbury School building project, and the temporary classroom facility that would be necessary for the school to function once the project breaks ground. Select board chair Jim Rogers made note the need for temporary classrooms is likely to persist whether or not the $53 million renovation and addition project, which has been estimated at $55 with temporary classrooms, survives the ballot box. Rogers said the reasons the temporary classrooms could still be needed were twofold: because the pandemic may continue, and because of the contaminants in the old school. 

“God, do I hope that the thing passes,” he said, “the project that we put together, but if for some reason it doesn’t, then we might be looking at some — we know we did temporary remediation in the school. And that issue is going to come back up again. So I think we need to be prepared for whatever faces us.”

Rogers was referencing remediation of lead paint discovered in the school at the start of the 2019-20 school year. That led to shipping some students elsewhere, and compartmentalizing others in the newest portion of the school until emergency remediation efforts could be undertaken. 

Due to a lack of progress negotiating with the owners of the EduComp building on State Road, the site presently under consideration for temporary classrooms by the town is 55 West William St., a town-owned property. The property is across the street from the school. A condemned 19th century house sits on that land, and must first be demolished before the site can be used for modular classrooms. Tisbury building commissioner Ross Seavey previously told The Times the demolition and disposal of the house would be expensive, because it must all be considered asbestos-laced hazardous waste under state law. 

Town officials appear not to have planned for the demolition much when debating configurations and financing methods for the classrooms at the site. When asked by The Times about the scope, timetable, and funding source for the demolition of the house, Rogers said, “That has not been finalized yet.” 

He went on to say, “That will be part of the planning that we’re doing when we plan what we need to do for the infrastructure at 55 West William. We were tentatively talking about an article in the town meeting for that, but you know, maybe we’ll use part of the $1.4 million to do that to get us moving forward.”

The $1.4 million Rogers mentioned stems from a warrant article proposed as a transfer from the town’s stabilization fund to help pay for modular classrooms at 55 West William St. While the draft article reads $1.5 million, the sum of $1.4 is what select board members stuck with for discussion purposes. 

Town administrator Jay Grande noted the figure, which he said may be as low as $1.2 million, would be for getting the modular classrooms, and doesn’t factor in other costs.

“In terms of the total cost of developing the site, you’re not including the electrical, the plumbing, the site work,” Grande said. “We’re just talking in the $1.2, $1.4 [million range for] delivery and setup and the actual leasing. But obviously less than $2 million.”

Rogers suggested some of the $1.4 million might be used to pay for razing the house on the property. He also said questions need to be answered as to whether the modular units will have a septic system or tie into the town sewer system. 

Tisbury School Principal John Custer said time is of the essence. “The one contractor, or vendor, I should say, that I communicated with stated in order to have them onsite and ready to occupy on Sept. 1, they need to be secured, contract signed, all that, by the middle of March,” Custer said. “And this is a contractor that has done work with modulars on the Vineyard before, so they’re aware of all the added hurdles, etc.”

Custer went on to say, “If we are talking about having modulars, ready to occupy, Sept. 1, 2021, the beginning of the next school year, the deadline to secure those is creeping up soon.”

Grande said Custer would be looking for only five units initially, “in terms of meeting the immediate need” while the site could be prepared for the whole facility “that is to come.”

The five units ostensibly referred to spacing necessary due to pandemic restrictions; however, this was neve made clear. Grande went on to say the subject could be explored more privately.

“Offline we can work through that,” he said.

“Yes,” Rogers said. 

Select board member Jeff Kristal advocated for building out all the modular classrooms necessary to accommodate the whole school right from the get-go.

“I don’t disagree, Jeff,” Rogers said.

Debate carried into where to allocate requests for money, and when over the course of three June town meeting days school-related articles would come to the floor. The board, the committee, and the moderator could not come to a consensus. 

Grande eventually asked for clarity on what he should plan for regarding 55 West William St. “I just want to come away from this with a crystal-clear understanding,” Grande said. He asked if he should plan to build a whole temporary campus right from the start.

“That’s what I’m hearing,” Rogers said. 

The board agreed to meet again with the school committee in two weeks, to form more concrete plans.

“We’ll do some homework,” Houghton said. 

Updated to correct the type of hazardous waste reportedly at 55 West Williams Street.