Chilmark approves $950k for school HVAC 

Voters say yes to 19 articles in about 60 minutes.


Chilmark voters were in a mood to say yes Saturday afternoon, passing every part of a 19-article warrant.

Topping the warrant, a $950,000 request for an HVAC at the Chilmark School handily cleared a requisite two-thirds threshold with only one dissenter. A $16,588.26 request to cover old bills cleared a nine-tenths majority requirement with a unanimous vote. An article asking for $5,500 to pay for civil engineering services for a new fire station and Tri-Town Ambulance headquarters, an article asking for $35,000 for a fire department 4 by 4 pickup truck, and a $200,000 roadwork article all cleared two-thirds majority requirements with unanimous votes. 

The meeting was light on debate. What discussion there was largely encompassed the HVAC article, and a $14,500 request for a fence along Abel’s Hill Cemetery.

Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools business administrator Mark Friedman said the initial bids received for the HVAC job were higher than expected. 

Friedman said planners went back to the drawing board and “reassessed the scope and the spec,” but determined not much could be tweaked. He noted the Up-Island Regional School District unanimously backed the project. 

“You might ask why it is so expensive,” finance committee chair Rob Hannemann said. “Those of us who were on the working group putting together these plans … we were surprised at how this was going to end up being. There are a bunch of added costs to a project like this one. We’ve built in 15 percent [in] contingency funds for overruns and anything that may happen along the way. We refer to the Island premium, because things cost more to do on the Island, and that Island premium is up to 20 percent now … for materials and labor. There’s overhead, there’s insurance that’s required for municipal projects. There’s been heavy inflation in materials during the pandemic, and it’s not clear that that’s settled down yet. Finally, off-Island contractors have full project schedules right now … One might ask why would they take a job on the Island if they had to bring over their people and their equipment on a daily basis and so on and so forth? So that too is an element as to why this is probably 30 or 40 percent more expensive than we anticipated. Turns out also that our Island HVAC contractors are not certified for a municipal project of this scope.”

Asked what would happen if the sum wasn’t enough, select board member Warren Doty said the only money available for the HVAC project is the $950,000 in the article. If more money is needed, the request would need to be presented at a future town meeting. 

Cemetery superintendent Susan Murphy tossed back a few witty replies to questions about a split rail fence that she said would be used to mark a recently surveyed boundary of the Abel’s Hill Cemetery.

When voter Gary Mottau learned the fence was in a straight line, he asked, “Then wouldn’t just an open network of posts be sufficient?” 

“Well, there will be a network of posts with rails in between,” Murphy said.

Laughter rose among the voters following her response. 

At the close of the meeting, voter David Damroth told moderator Janet Weidner, “I love to see women in power, and I want to congratulate you and thank you for taking this job.”

Weidner took over from longtime Chilmark town moderator Everett Poole earlier in the year.

“Thank you,” Weidner said to a round of applause.

Doty seized on what Damroth said to note the special town meeting had a special guest, recently elected Oak Bluffs select board member Emma Green-Beach. Green-Beach, who is also the director of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, was in attendance to promote a $36,000 request for funds to replace seawater supply lines at the Hughes Hatchery. The ask represented Chilmark’s share of a $271,000 overall project cost divided evenly among the six Vineyard towns. The article passed unanimously.

“It’s very rare that we have a selectman from another town visit our town meeting,” Doty said. “And very rare that we have a woman in power who has recently become a selectwoman in Oak Bluffs. So this is Emma Green-Beach, I’d like to welcome her to Chilmark.”

The voters erupted in applause. 



  1. A million dollars to repair the Chilmark School HVAC system?! That sounds to me like another case of local folks allowing themselves to be intimidated and bamboozled by off-Island School Design Consultants – same as with the Tisbury School debacle. How about ductless minisplits, air-to-air heat exchangers and air purifiers in every room – $300,000 max. All done and serviced by local companies.

    • Have you made a proposal?
      Do you have a background climate controls?
      Ductless mini-splits were designed for the do it yourselfers.
      Have you done a comparison on the power costs of mini-splits versus the proposed system?
      Mini-splits were designed for small area, hence the name.

      Like most everything else the per unit cost of climate control goes down with scale.
      What Island contractor has experience with a project of this size?

      Which Island “designer” has the experience to design the Tisbury School?
      Which Island contractor has the experience to build the Tisbury School?
      Which Island contractor can get a performance bond to build the Tisbury School.

      You should run for School Committee.
      You have such great ideas.
      You could save the taxpayers millions.

  2. There are currently no contractors on the island who are licensed to do this kind of municipal project. This is why our public buildings are built by contractors from the mainland. Today, unlike twenty years ago when the Chilmark School was built, there is a position built into the building expenses called the owners project manager (OPM). This position gives much more oversight to the construction phase than the previous “clerk of the works” title of old. Twenty years ago, materials were cheap and labor was expensive. Today both materials and labor are expensive. It is an upgrade that is long overdue.

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