Howes House project cost raises eyebrows

Chilmark calls on West Tisbury to increase communication among the towns.

The cost of the Howes House renovation project is expected to be split between the three up-Island towns. — MV Times

Members of the Chilmark select board shared their hesitations on participating in the Howes House restoration project Wednesday, after agreeing that there hasn’t been enough communication among the up-Island towns.

Howes House, home to the Up-Island Council on Aging, is located in West Tisbury, but it also serves Chilmark and Aquinnah seniors. All three towns contribute to the costs of the provided services and programs.

Officials from all three towns have discussed Howes House renovation plans since 2021, after acknowledging the buildings’ need for significant improvements. The cost is expected to be split equally among the up-Island towns.

West Tisbury has since taken the reins on the project, hiring an architect and working on renovation designs. 

But Chilmark select board member Bill Rossi said Chilmark hasn’t been involved in the project much during a meeting Wednesday.

“I feel that we’ve had very little to do with the project in terms of design,” he said, “[such as] choosing an architect, coming up with a budget. . . and we’re being asked to [contribute] one-third.”

Chilmark select board member Warren Doty agreed, noting that the initial cost estimate for the project was $8 million when it was last discussed at a joint meeting. That’s since grown. 

“The most recent email [from West Tisbury] said $10 million,” Doty said. 

He said the email was accompanied by a diagram of the existing facility and absent of any new plans. He asked if any Chilmark officials have been given renderings or plans for the proposed restorations. 

Select board chair Bill Rossi said he’s only seen the draft plans through newspaper articles. Other than that, he said, “we’ve had zero communication.”

“I would hope that we’d be a little more involved [if] we’re being asked to contribute a third of a $10 million project,” Rossi said, He compared the Howes House project to the Tri-Town Ambulance service project, in which the three up-Island towns each shared one-third of the costs. 

“It just feels very, very different from how we handled the ambulance building,” Rossi said.

For that project, he said, Chilmark pushed for communication with West Tisbury and Aquinnah and established a committee of representatives from each town. 

That committee was charged with the planning, design, and budgeting. 

Rossi said as of now, he’d be “uncomfortable” with asking Chilmark residents to fund the project at town meeting. 

“We need to bring it to the voters and I’m not so sure I’m comfortable doing that right now,” he said. “I feel really rushed into this. . . I’m not so sure it’s a great idea for us.”

Doty called for more transparency with West Tisbury, and said he’d like to see the plans and documents associated with the project, and get a better understanding of why the estimated cost is now $2 million higher than first discussed. 

Rossi suggested that the town do a survey to determine how many Chilmark residents use the services at Howes House. 

Select board member Jim Malkin agreed, and recommended consulting with the town’s finance and advisory committee before making any decisions moving forward.