To the Editor:
Later this week at this year’s special town meeting and at the ballot on June 17th and 22nd, we will be asked to vote on the renovation and addition project for the Tisbury School. For nearly 15 years, we have tried to reconcile the emotions of preserving a nearly 100-year-old building erected with 20th century materials with the legal mandate of providing a safe and healthy learning environment for our children and staff. As with any project evoking fond memories of times long past, this effort has been challenging, divisive, and very expensive. (To date we have spent $1.25 million on feasibility studies, schematic renderings, and architectural drawings.)
The time is now to put an end to the debates and begin the renovation and addition project our town voters endorsed at the 2019 town meeting.
During the past year, the Tisbury School building committee worked with Chris Blessen of Tappé Architects to gather input from residents, review the 2015 Tisbury Vision Plan, and review minutes and design plans from past failed efforts to ensure that many perspectives could be considered. During the past six months, the Tisbury School building committee hosted more than 46 public meetings, community forums, and conversations via Zoom, culminating with an in-person discussion at the Film Festival on May 25.
The Tisbury select board and the Tisbury School committee jointly endorsed this project in a public meeting. The Tisbury finance committee and the town treasurer reviewed the costs and determined that the town is in a position to finance the project.
Some important facts, and answers to frequently asked questions:
- The school necessarily needs to be gutted and taken down to the studs. The building contains materials known to be hazardous to children and adults. The windows are failing, the mortar needs attention, and the heating systems are nearing the end of their usable lifespan, and are run by fossil fuels. The poor insulation drives energy usage and increases moisture throughout the building.
- The design presented is a schematic design; it is not a final architectural drawing. If a critical item has not been addressed, there will be time to make an adjustment. The design is based on the parameters set by voters to develop a renovation project that meets the education program needs. The design meets the goals established by the 2015 Tisbury Vision Plan.
- The design brings the school in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Law.
- The current gym, built in 1935, has a regulation-size gym for a K-4 school, and would require sizable investment to achieve energy efficiency. Renovating the gym was determined to be a poor investment for the return, as it will require additional construction elsewhere to gain the space needs.
- The design adds a formal administrative wing, achieving a modern, secure building entry that is accessible from both Spring Street and North Williams. The so-called “white house trailer” will be removed, and a preschool will be constructed in the same space.
- Some windows will be eliminated in the kindergarten area and along the second-floor classrooms to allow for the construction of a school cafeteria. The design of the cafeteria maximizes natural light in the utilization of high ceilings, interior windows, and skylighting.
- Two staircases will be eliminated to capture more educational space and reduce noise, without expanding the footprint of the building. A new central staircase and elevator will be installed in the current front entrance.
- The project has a budget “not to exceed” $55 million. It is expensive, and will take 30 years to pay off. However, interest rates are at historic lows, and costs of borrowing will likely never be lower. Town and school officials are dedicated to trying to find pathways for alternate funding for some of the project. For example, currently legislation is being debated at the federal level that would allow communities with dilapidated school buildings to access federal funds for building projects.
Please join with the Tisbury select board, the Tisbury School committee, the Tisbury planning board, Tisbury finance committee, and parents and teachers to support the vote for this project.
Jim Rogers, chair
Tisbury Select Board
Amy Houghton, chair
Tisbury School Committee