Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) Principal Sara Dingledy sent an email blast to school staff Wednesday with the news that MVRHS will be formally recommended to the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s (MSBA) core building program on March 2.
“This means that we are one of 17 schools the state will support financially and with design/build/management expertise for either a new build or a major school renovation,” Dingledy wrote in her message. “We have worked for years to secure this support, and have finally made the cut!”
The MVRHS committee has applied to the MSBA in each of the past six years, looking for support to replace the 63-year-old high school. The process has been hindered by a longtime issue among Island towns — the regional funding formula. The current FY23 funding formula apportions 28.3 percent of the budget to Oak Bluffs, 26.9 percent to Tisbury, 23.5 percent to Edgartown, 14.3 percent to West Tisbury, 5 percent to Chilmark, and 2 percent to Aquinnah. The existing funding formula for capital projects (for which costs are divided up among the towns) requires Oak Bluffs to bear the brunt of the cost because they have a higher per-pupil attendance rate at the high school.
Dingledy added that she and the entire school district have much to learn about the process, and as school officials learn more information and details, she will share them with the community. “In the meantime, what great news to send us all off to a much-needed vacation,” Dingledy wrote.
Martha’s Vineyard Superintendent Matt D’Andrea told The Times on a phone call Thursday that he was excited to hear the news from MSBA, but there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure the process continues without issue, and a building project can eventually be initiated and completed.
Even though Oak Bluffs sent a separate letter to the MSBA when D’Andrea asked Island towns to come together and unanimously support the idea of a feasibility study in good faith, the town made it clear that they are in full support of a building project. Despite any disagreement surrounding the regional funding formula, D’Andrea said, Oak Bluffs “recognizes that this needs to be done for the kids,” and MSBA recognizes that towns are on the same page in this regard.
Although it’s not guaranteed that MVRHS will be accepted into the building program, D’Andrea is optimistic. On March 2, the MSBA will meet to take a vote on whether to accept the district.
According to D’Andrea, the MSBA has set a deadline of Sept. 1, at which time any disagreements around the formula should be resolved. After that, if the towns can reach common ground, the high school would enter into what is known as Module 1 of the MSBA grant process. This eligibility period “assists the MSBA with managing its financial resources by identifying early in the process whether a district is ready to manage and fund a capital project,” according to the MSBA website. “It will help to determine a district’s financial and community readiness to enter the capital pipeline.” During Module 1, the district will prepare for entering the feasibility study process, D’Andrea said.
D’Andrea speculated that based on his experience with the Tisbury School District MSBA process, after Sept. 1, the high school will be assembling a building committee, and at that time will also be considering a reasonable figure to request for the feasibility study. “We have to determine what the warrant articles will look like, then get them written and submitted to the towns,” D’Andrea said. “We will also be educating the community on what this money will be used for, so when they go and vote, they will be fully informed.”
D’Andrea said he is confident the towns will come together, but noted that if the feasibility study doesn’t pass, MVRHS would be out of the program. “We would lose that opportunity,” he said.
If MVRHS is accepted, they will not need to apply during each subsequent year, and after a three- to five-year period, should have a completely updated building with modern systems, updated plumbing, electric, and technology infrastructure.
As of now, D’Andrea said, he can’t say whether the school is leaning more toward a total rebuild or an in-depth renovation, but officials will be looking at all the options going forward, while also considering cost.
MVRHS school committee chair Amy Houghton told The Times by phone Thursday that she had an opportunity to speak with five of the six chairs of the Island select boards “and without exception they are excited and hopeful. We are going to try and have a meeting in March to kick this off, and really look at how we can make this happen for our community. It’s too big of an opportunity to miss out on,” Houghton said.
On March 2, school officials will attend an orientation where the MSBA will outline in greater detail what the process will look like going forward.