Tisbury deserves a better town hall. There’s been a temporary solution for what seems like decades, and the current setup might be getting the job done, but it’s showing its age.
Currently, town offices are split into two campuses that aren’t exactly across town, but they are far enough apart that it’s a nuisance. There’s the annex buildings on High Point Lane that are showing their age, and there’s “town hall” at the Katharine Cornell Theater.
There’s an inconvenience to the public that you, our readers, probably know better than we can describe. It can sometimes feel like a scavenger hunt getting to the right office, and not a fun scavenger hunt when you’re in the middle of traffic.
The split campus is also a time sink for town employees. Instead of walking down the hall to get a document, they sometimes have to drive through the middle of town. With the added time of trying to find parking, that can take a half-hour in the summer. And town officials say that can be a daily occurrence.
The town has looked at a number of alternatives over the years, but officials have recently had their eyes on a promising choice: the EduComp building, on State Road.
The old art and office supply store is centrally located, just off Main Street in Vineyard Haven. It’s walkable. With a renovation and expansion, there would be enough room to fit town hall staff into one consolidated location, with enough room for apartments on the top floor. The building is a focal point of downtown. And — even without the white pillars of some quaint municipal buildings — it looks like a town hall.
“There’s no perfect site, but this one is attractive,” town administrator Jay Grande told The Times in a recent interview.
While attractive and promising, there’s work that needs to be done to make sure it is the right choice. And the town has created a task force to investigate the pros and cons, to figure out if it is indeed as promising as it seems.
The idea would be to lease the building at an annual fixed price, with the option to buy at a later date. The lease is estimated at between $450,000 and $600,000 a year.
The town administrator says that without paying for a capital project now, Tisbury voters wouldn’t see a large tax increase, at least in the short term. That’s important for Grande, because local taxes are likely on a temporary upswing with the Tisbury School under construction, and the high school upgrade likely coming soon as well. Some other options would require building from new.
There’s a reason that the town hall option could be appealing to current building owner Xerxes Agassi. He has tried to redevelop the EduComp building for housing, but there’s been trouble with permitting. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission rejected a proposal last year. Having the town on his side not only secures a steady tenant, it could help get a project through the commission.
One of the bigger concerns for the EduComp proposal is parking. Parking is already limited downtown, and this could make finding a vacant space even harder. But there are a number of town-owned properties in the area that could be used as satellite parking for staff, like the old fire station and 55 West William St., near the school; there’s also some space at Veterans Memorial Park that the public could use (with a nice walk too); and there’s potential near Cumberland Farms.
Still, that is an area that this working group will have to review. But consider what parking is available at town hall now. Not a lot.
There’s also an issue of timing. The town has been undergoing the development of a master plan; it’s been in the works for months. That effort has yet to make final recommendations, and any recommendations could ultimately help shape a future town hall. Should the town wait until that planning process is done before moving into a new location, or should they act on the EduComp opportunity now, while they can? Another consideration the review committee will have to work through.
What we can say for certain is that Tisbury’s town hall has been a temporary solution for decades, and it’s fundamentally flawed. Not just for the public, but for town staff as well. Grande told The Times an anecdote about an employee who is retiring soon. The staffer started work nearly 40 years ago, and at the time, they were told that the office would be temporary. Now the employee is retiring, and they are still in a temporary office.
The EduComp building is a very attractive solution to this issue. There is still some work to be done, but it is a venture worth exploring for the good of Tisbury and the Island.