Gym should be spared to save money


To the Editor:

Tisbury voters still have an opportunity to vote in private on the Tisbury School project. At town meeting, we can decide to have an Australian ballot by a simple majority vote. Tisbury voters who primarily vote at the ballot box should be encouraged to come to town meeting knowing there is an option to still vote in private, and I would hope whatever side of the issue you are on, you would respect the right to that privacy.

Those advocating for spending another $26 million on this project have said that we have no other choice but to spend more, and any delay will cost us. They have also said that we have already committed money to this specific solution. (Why did the select board move forward and sign contracts even after it became known that there were cost overruns and additional funding was needed?) On these points I disagree.

The town can move forward with the already appropriated $55 million. The town can choose not to demolish the gym, and to scale back the project so that it fits the budget. We can have a project that meets the needs, just not all the wants and extras.

There are many reasons to make this choice. One important reason is the $26 million we may save constitutes a large amount of what we will need to fund our portion of another important education project for our students, the high school project. Let’s save this money and use it on that education facility.

Another reason is that Tisbury taxpayers are also going to be asked in the near future to fund other large expenses that will certainly increase taxes — wastewater, repairs/replacement of other aging municipal facilities, and climate change adaptations are just some of the needs that will require significant funds.

Aside from the money, we also must regard all projects through the life-threatening lens of climate and ecological collapse, and we must do everything we can to reduce these devastating impacts we are already seeing. If we don’t get this right, it won’t much matter what kind of school building we have in 20 years. One very important aspect of what we can do now on this issue is to retain and restore our built environment, and limit the need for new construction and materials. Both the American Institute of Architects and the Royal British Institute of Architects strongly advocate for renovation over demolition for climate impact reasons. The want for a new gym was the key conceptual design decision that drove the large cost of this project. Choosing to retain the existing gym is the right fiscal and climate choice, by far.

Even if we end up delaying this project one more year — I would hope we can move faster than that — and we incur additional lease fees for the temporary trailers and continued inflation, we could still potentially spend less than the $26 million being asked for now. Remember, we have already locked in the borrowing rate for the approved $55 million and the work that’s been done so far is ours, usable as we see fit. We don’t have to start from zero.

You may also ask, Weren’t you one of the folks who wrote that letter in 2018, saying if we did a renovation project it would be less costly, not lose our history, and not demolish a sound building? Unfortunately, the contributions of the people who wrote that letter were not at all welcomed in this current process, but that did not stop us from trying to participate, and we did. We advocated all along the way to think more reasonably about this project, but we were soundly ignored. Case in point, the renovation work is far less expensive than new construction in the current proposal by a per-square-footage cost. Maybe it is time to truly listen to others and seriously consider another way. When you are provided with bad options, you must create the space for better options. This is where we are, seemingly left with nothing but bad options. Rejecting them will give us the chance to open up the space for options that will serve this community better.

So let’s stick to the $55 million we have already approved for a school project, and get to work restoring the Tisbury School. If, over this winter, we find we still need some modest additional funds after truly evaluating other options — something much less than the $26 million being asked for today — we can approach that question at the annual town meeting in April 2023 while the project continues to advance. That is the only answer that makes fiscal and ecological sense. 


Ben Robinson
Vineyard Haven