No one questions the need for a better learning environment for the students of Tisbury. Let’s make that clear from the outset.
We understand the problems with lead and asbestos in the school building. We’ve walked across the buckling wood floors. We’ve seen the air ventilation system that appears to be more duct tape than ductwork. We’ve passed through the front entrance — grand, but without proper access for those with disabilities. We’ve endured town meetings in the cramped and dark gymnasium.
The school building is a wounded warrior, suffering from years of delayed maintenance, and no amount of bandages will fix what ails it. It needs an overhaul.
With our strong support for public education, it pains us to say that the $55 million renovation and addition proposed for the Tisbury School is not the right decision for the community.
When voters rejected by 21 votes the proposed school project for new construction in 2018, we hoped town leaders would take a deep breath and consider alternatives — and not see renovation of and addition to the existing Tisbury School building as the inevitable path. It took a while for the select board and school leaders to come together, with the wounds of 2018 still raw.
Back in 2017, the town had a real alternative in play, to build a new school on land known as the Manter well site, which would have been in the same price range as a new school on Spring Street, but would have given the town an opportunity to repurpose the Tisbury School building — perhaps as much-needed housing.
A pause now to seek alternatives could restart that conversation as well. We repeat what we said then: By making the bold move to have a new school built at the Manter well site, the town could find a long-term solution that would provide room to grow, and room for much-needed playing fields as well. It would put that valuable town resource in an area that would not exacerbate traffic in a residential neighborhood. And the town would avoid the headaches that almost always accompany a project that includes renovation of an existing building. Factor in the age of the Tisbury School, and the town is just asking for problems that could end up driving up the cost of the project.
During the current building committee process, we’ve asked a lot of questions about lead, about asbestos, and about radon. We’ve asked why the school’s sub-basement, the boiler room, was not tested for the presence of radon, and have never gotten a satisfactory answer. Radon levels are generally higher in basements. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., according to the EPA. If we’re spending $55 million to renovate a school without factoring in the full scope of the radon situation, the project is flawed from the start.
The financial burden that any school project puts on the community for the next 30 years should not be downplayed. The current plan up for vote would cost taxpayers 10 percent more for 30 years. That means that the owner of a residential property valued at $682,300 — Tisbury’s median — would pay an additional $635 in property taxes per year for the Tisbury School renovation and addition project.
We understand that construction won’t get any cheaper. But that’s not a reason to proceed with this project.
The building committee has worked hard, and we always appreciate the efforts of volunteers, but we believe it’s in the town’s best interests for voters at the June 13 town meeting and subsequently at the ballot box on June 22 to reject the plan presented.
The sky will not fall if this school project doesn’t pass. Let’s back up, and find some alternatives to consider in our quest to find a healthy place for children to learn, a project our town can support, and afford.