The Tisbury School renovation and addition project has been estimated to be $10 million over budget. The Tisbury School building committee (TSBC), working with the architectural firm Tappé, the construction manager at risk W.T. Rich, and owner’s project manager CHA Consulting, have explored various methods to whittle down the deficit.
After arriving at three cost-cutting options, Option 3, which will carve out window replacements, masonry restoration, and site improvements, was chosen. Option 3 is estimated to narrow the deficit to $3.9 million. On Monday, the building committee discussed the need to get information about the cost changes and the reasons behind them out to taxpayers as soon as possible to minimize the sting of what TSBC member Reade Milne described as inevitable “backlash.”
On May 11, Tisbury’s select board didn’t appear to try to get out in front of the deficit news, but instead fielded the subject without providing much detail after it got an update by town administrator Jay Grande on the project, without him ever mentioning the project was over budget.
“From the point of view of Option 3, I recommend to the select board and the town that this is the direction we head,” Grande said. “The project has begun, we have to keep moving, we can’t have a delay.”
The update lasted a little more than three minutes, with Grande telling the select board that the Tisbury School Committee had approved moving ahead with Option 3.
“We’re in alignment with Option 3; it’s not our call,” select board chair Jeff Kristal said. “There’s no objection.”
On Monday, CHA senior project manager Mike Owen characterized the select board’s brush with the subject as a ratification of it. “I’m happy to report the select board has ratified, as did the school committee, the W.T. Rich Option 3 for the value engineering process which Tappé has been working diligently on,” Owen said.
“We’ll have hard numbers to go by toward the end of the month of June,” Owen added. He described the overall process as “moving at lightspeed.”
In an interview with The Times at the end of April, Tisbury School committee chair Amy Hougton blamed the extra costs on supply chain issues, inflation, the pandemic, and the war in Ukraine. “Anybody who’s doing a construction project on the Island knows they’re coming back between 10 and 20 percent higher than what they had hoped for,” Houghton said.
Grande told The Times on Tuesday that prior to the extra cost calculations, the school project was expected to cost $42.3 million; with cost increases, that figure rises to about $52.4 million. If Option 3 is exercised, it’s estimated the cost will be reduced to between $46 and $47 million. However, he noted that doesn’t include soft costs like architectural fees, construction manager at risk fees, and the services of the owner’s project manager. He didn’t estimate those costs, but acknowledged that Tisbury’s borrowing limit is $55 million. Once a guaranteed maximum price is agreed upon between the town and W.T. Rich — something W.T. Rich senior project manager Harvey Heskenas told TSBC he expected in August — that figure will still be subject to change orders and overages, according to Grande. “You still have cost overruns,” Grande said.
Part of the cost-reduction method for Option 3 involved what Houghton described as “value engineering,” which she characterized as “making some changes in the design without having to redesign,” and being willing to “compromise on some things.” These have included reducing the size of the administrative wing of the school, eliminating a major staircase, and smaller choices, like reducing tiles.
“I think the original plan called for tiling the bathrooms all of the way on all four walls,” Houghton said, noting tilework is more expensive than simply painting. “So I think what they are considering doing is putting the tiling on the splash walls behind the toilets and sinks, but not on the walls that don’t have splashes.”
Per an information sheet Grande provided, major changes contemplated by Option 3 include culling $3.5 million worth of window replacement and masonry work, and $900,000 worth of site work like landscaping. The sheet also calls for “some encapsulation instead of full abatement” (presumably of lead), which has been an ongoing concern in the aging school. On Wednesday, TSBC chair Michael Watts told The Times that though the encapsulation item initially appeared in paperwork as an option, the committee “overwhelmingly” endorsed 100 percent abatement, and took anything less off the table.
Milne stressed to her fellow TSBC members Monday that communication on Option 3 was important, and asked how it might get done. “What’s our plan for talking to the community about this big change, for informing people?” Milne asked. “Because I think we have a lot of education ahead of us if we’re going to try to not have a huge backlash when we present this to the town at special town meeting.”
Grande, who wasn’t at the TSBC meeting, said if the choice is made to ask voters for more borrowing power, such a request will likely occur at a special town meeting in August or September, and would later need to be backed up at an election in November.
Prior to such events, Grande said, due diligence is paramount. “We need to exhaust and really explore the funding and strategy,” Grande said. He added it was important to take a look at grants and alternative funding sources.
“If we just show up at a meeting and say we need more money to replace the windows, I think that it’s going to be catastrophic,” Milne told fellow committee members. “So I think we need to do some work to really get out there … You know it’s been our issue all along, I think, in both committees — it’s really hard to engage the public … I think there’s going to be a strong reaction if we don’t. There will be a strong reaction even if we do.”
“Right,” TSBC Watts said; “we’re going to get that either way.”
“I think if we can get ahead of some of this and start laying down a foundation of the hard choices that we’ve had to make over the last month or so, I think that will be really helpful,” TSBC vice chair Rita Jeffers said.
Jeffers advocated for preparing and distributing a press release this week.
TSBC member Sarah York, who is also a member of the finance committee, said she’s already receiving questions from fellow finance committee members.
Owen suggested certain committee members could become “ambassadors to the community” for outreach purposes.
Watts lamented that past forums on the project have been “poorly attended,” and asked if the TSBC should hold more forums.
“I have a feeling that if and when this design gets out, this redesign, and the news that the windows and the repointing of the bricks are an alternate that we’re going to ask the town for more money for, I think when that news gets out, I think we will have more of a response at a public forum — not really the response that we want — but I think that we will get a lot more attention,” Milne said. “We’re going to have a lot of attention when this news gets out there. And so, I think that as a committee, it’s our responsibility to sit there and answer questions and, you know, I don’t think that they’re going to be happy questions. But I think that’s our responsibility as a committee. So I think that a public forum would be a great idea.”
York advocated for the press release Jeffers had pushed. She said there were important reasons, reasons that seem in the best interest of the town and school, involving economic choices that have been made that need to be conveyed to the public.
Despite new costs and cost-cutting ideas being topical, the project itself has rolled on. Sections of modular classrooms were trailered up Beach Road from barges on Monday.
“Delivery of the modular sections is ongoing,” Heskenas told the committee, and would continue “up and to about Memorial Day.”
Heskenas also said Lawrence Lynch was awarded a site work contract, and has leveled off the area where the modular classrooms will be situated.