Tisbury School project in $10 million hole

Committee braces for ‘strong reaction’ as it tries to reduce costs.


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.


  1. This is just the beginning of cost over runs but dont worry we will just raise taxes. This is all Putins fault.

  2. VH gov is dysfunctional, they can’t seem to do anything right. Reminds me of our federal government, glad to live in Edgartown and work in OB.

  3. was there not 20 million that was state funded before? (yes, there was). how can islanders, yes i am one, be so short sighted as to pass these funding options up because they like to hear themselves talk. Pride is costing us all.

  4. NO SURPRISE HERE!!!! Guess we have to sign over our retirement for this boondoggle.

  5. As far as I can tell, so far they have barricaded the parking lot, removed some topsoil. And startled a trailer park with four single wides.
    And they are already $10 million over budget.
    I can’t wait to see the final cost of the consequence of those 20 votes a few years ago.

  6. You should have gotten a picture of the mobile home park they turned the old Guythers property into for the construction managers to live on. Isn’t there a zoning restriction for mobile parks?

      • I’ll take a stab at it… the cost of building materials and everything else have skyrocketed over the last year. Could this be the reason why people are blaming Biden and for the cost overruns before a hole is dug?

        • Carl– You are correct. The cost of building materials and just about everything else has really gone up, but not 25 % .
          Inflation is a reality. Anyone who has ever taken any kind of economics course knows that inflation is caused by an increase in demand, or a lack of supply.
          In our current economic environment, inflation is occurring on a global scale. U.S Consumers and manufacturers purchase materials and products from other countries, as well as our own.
          You and I and James all know that we live in a capitalistic society.
          That word has a meaning ;
          “an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.”
          So. I wonder why Mr. Holenko thinks the president of the United States has anything to do with a global surge in demand for virtually everything coupled with global supply chain issues as we emerge from a devastating pandemic, and the resulting economic consequences of that.
          And just for the record, commodity traders set the price of oil.
          There is no reason whatsoever that the price of gas should have nearly doubled since Russia invaded Ukraine.
          Traders did that.
          Perhaps the people who are blaming “Brandon” for everything would rather have socialism;
          “a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”
          Or better yet, a dictatorship;
          “A dictatorship is a form of government characterized by a single leader or group of leaders that hold government power promised to the people and little or no toleration for political pluralism or independent media. ”
          Now, if Biden were a dictator, I would be more than happy to blame him. Of course I would be thrown in jail if i did.

          It seems Mr. Holenko would prefer we live under a dictatorship with socialist leanings.

          I prefer capitalism.

          • Could not agree more about the speculators influencing fuel pricing. So when ANY administration makes things so difficult to dissuade future investment, prices will go up regardless of sector. The question I would ask would be at what cost. Is the cost monetary, security, environmental, fairness, global influence, etc.

        • Carl- nice to see that we are in agreement about some basic facts concerning economics.
          Your questions are quite legitimate.
          One of the roles of government is to raise taxes, and spend that money on things that influence the future of the country.
          In the 50’s the Eisenhower administration poured serious amounts of money into the interstate system. Not everyone agreed that was a good thing to do, especially since Ike’s main motivation was to make it easier to move military equipment around. But it turned out to be an indispensable benefit to our economy.
          In the 60’s and 70’s Nasa poured serious money into space. Not everyone agreed, but it produces benefits and technologies that are indispensable today and have contributed to our staggering prosperity.
          So now we come to oil— The current administration is trying to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, while at the same time encouraging renewable alternatives. Not everyone agrees that is a good idea. But the price of renewables are dropping and are now competitive with fossil fuels. The benefits of a rapid transition to locally produced clean energy are potentially more beneficial to our monetary system, clearly our environment, “fairness ?” and global influences than the examples I mentioned above..
          Time will tell.

          • Don,
            I try to keep an open mind and ask lots of questions about so called clean energy. They say nuclear energy is clean but the radioactive byproduct stays around for many lifetimes and has to be buried under mountains. Electric vehicles have to be powered by batteries made from minerals that are strip mined around the world and then charged by electrical plants powered by coal and natural gas. Solar and wind are coming along but it seems we are far from where we need to be to supply basic needs. California is banning all natural gas in new buildings requiring them to be electric only. New York is following suit. Our infrastructure can’t handle the demand as it nothing more than heavy extension cords strung between buildings. All those things you mention took time and our country could afford them. We have a finite amount of natural resources that should be used efficiently and not wasted. I believe our ingenuity will get us there but we can’t afford to do it the way we are. Something has to give. We can’t continue to spend the way do but maybe we need to prioritize what we need to spend it on. Just like how people are adjusting their budget to pay 6.00 gas maybe our govt needs to adjust the budget to,pay for things we truly need. Please don’t ask me what to cut since I’m not the dope who decided to sell my soul and run for office. They asked for the job now they have make the tough decisions.

        • Yes, Carl, It is clear you keep an open mind. Everything you say about the environmental cost of lithium production , the resources to manufacture significant numbers of solar panels and the construction of gigantic windmills is accurate.
          The sheer amount of energy we consume is staggering.
          As a civilization, as a species, we are in a tough spot.
          It will take many solutions. I for one, like “pebble bed” nuclear reactors
          I also think banning any natural gas in new housing is insane.
          But I think the rapidly developing climate crisis does not allow us the luxury of time. Failure to deal with it now will be exponentially more costly later.
          At this point, the lowest hanging fruit is waste.

    • James– you know, I never saw Biden at a single meeting about the school.
      But I guess in your make believe bizzarro world he has something to do with this.

      But in reality, it all stems from the vote in 2018.
      Sometimes, people turn to their leaders for guidance.
      Especially on local issues, they look to their neighbors and duly elected officials.
      If you want to start blaming politicians, you could put responsibility where responsibility actually lies.
      This single letter to the editor, may very well have persuaded 11 people to vote against the proposed new school in 2018. :

  7. Keller, that letter was thoughtful and raised many good points. It is still valid. Other solutions need to be looked at or this will grow to a 75 million dollar school.

    • andy– just to be clear, you think we are better off spending $52 million (and rising) to put lipstick on a 100 year old pig, rather than spending $32 million to build a totally new school that would be done or nearly done by now.
      I am I reading that right ?

    • That “thoughtful” letter that raised “many good points” was all but written before the initial Tisbury School Building Committee attended their first meeting. As a select board member, Tristan came to a meeting early on and gave a rough figure of what he was “comfortable” with. It was very low, but the committee and professional team worked in good faith to get there. Once they did, he came back with the same round of complaints near the end of the process and proposed an absurdly lower figure. Translation? There was nothing “reluctant” about his no vote. In doing so, he led the town down a primrose path to the tune of 20+ million dollars.

      Source: MVTV recorded the meetings.

    • “Thoughtful”?? You must be joking. That letter implied that they had a cheaper plan. They did not. It was a bold faced lie. All of the people that signed that letter are culpable for our current situation.

    • $10 mm in the hole, before the hole is dug!? It seems that destiny has taken a hand 🙁

    • Each Island town has its own identity; thus the desire for their own school district. A regionalzed middle and elementary school district would detract from that. Additionally, have you ever set foot in the West Tisbury School? Hallways are narrow, ceilings are low and it’s the next building that will need a major renovation. Minimal restroom facilities, a puny cafeteria and not near enough classrooms to accommodate a merger with the largest elementary/middle school on the island. 5 schools is not a waste. It’s part of what makes the island so unique and special. Pride in their schools, pride in their towns. We as an island have lost so much of our individual identity, you think it’s a good idea to diminish it further?

  8. It’s a total waste of money and resources to have 5 different K-8 schools on this small island. Imagine the savings to taxpayers to have 1 or 2 regional schools. But that would entail grown ups playing nice, cooperating across town lines, and compromising. So, in other words, it will never happen.

    • And what would that cost be when we have 4 fully functional plus one old school? $200-300 Million? What a waste of existing resources.

  9. Instead of building another K-8 school, why haven’t we considered building a regional middle school? 4 K-5 and a regional middle school for 6-8. Because of the cost & lack of housing, my fear is that there won’t be families with children who can find stable housing.

  10. I hope the people bemoaning the cost of the renovation aren’t the same short sighted people that voted against the new school option presented years ago that offered a state contribution of approximately $16 million I believe. If you voted against the new school and are looking to cast blame regarding the current projects price tag take a gander in the mirror.

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