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New $82M Tisbury School on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts Slated for 2024 Finish

Mon July 10, 2023 - Northeast Edition #18
Martha’s Vineyard Times & CEG

The goal of the $82 million project is to bring the school up to modern health, accessibility and environmental standards. (Tisbury School photo)
The goal of the $82 million project is to bring the school up to modern health, accessibility and environmental standards. (Tisbury School photo)

Walking through the construction zone of the Tisbury School on Martha's Vineyard, it is easy to see the vision that the project is building toward: Starting on the first level — which currently has a dirt floor, no insulation and an open-floorplan — the towering ceilings, grand windows and history still lend an academic air.

The goal of the $82 million project is to bring the school up to modern health, accessibility and environmental standards. It is intended to address space needs for current and future students, increase accessibility for students and community members with impaired mobility, and work to meet Tisbury's Green Community pledge by eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

But building plans also are intended to preserve iconic features of the original 1929 structure, like its brick exterior and tall, arching windows.

Construction on the Tisbury School has been ongoing since last year.

"Right now, things are going quite well, and we know we will come in at budget, but our hope is that we'll come in under budget," Amy Houghton, chair of the Tisbury School Committee, told the Times during a recent tour.

Houghton acknowledged there are another 12 months of construction ahead, the Times reported, so it is hard to say what the final cost of the project will be. But, she added, the building effort is progressing according to plan, and work is expected to be complete by August 2024 — just in time for students arriving for the fall semester.

School Rid of Hazardous Waste, Has Internal Frame Rebuilt

The Tisbury School improvement project is operating with a "Construction Management at Risk" contract. W.T. Rich Company, in Natick, Mass., is responsible for overseeing the building process and hiring all subcontractors needed for an agreed-upon, maximum-guaranteed price.

The first part of construction at the school site was demolition. Steve Brenner, senior superintendent of W.T. Rich, said his company spent approximately five weeks with its demolition contractor removing all hazardous material from the building, including lead paint and asbestos. The hazardous-waste removal was carried out by a third-party hygienist consultant, he told the Martha's Vineyard Times.

"One of our primary goals was for it to no longer have toxins," said Michael Watts, a member of both the All Island and Tisbury school committees on Martha's Vineyard. "It was a more extensive demo because we needed to do that."

He added that school officials on the island were aware of asbestos and lead in the building due to previous encapsulation work.

Apart from the hazardous materials that had made their way into the school, many of the original floorboards on the second and third floors were rotted, thinning and full of holes, Brenner explained. There also were some poorly fastened building joints, including a roof that was not secured to meet today's hurricane standards.

The good news, he said, is the building should last at least another 100 years after the new construction is finished.

List of School's Issues Carefully Checked

All the problems Brenner mentioned that needed to be repaired at the Tisbury School were on a list that he maintained, as well as the next major phase of the project: A new addition, which will house the cafeteria, gymnasium, locker rooms and a performance space.

"The old gym was basically a couple of squares of concrete with some wood posts on them," Watts said in describing the school's former indoor athletic facility.

He added that the gym only had dirt underneath it, but with no foundation; in fact, it was not even a regulation-sized gymnasium.

When the Tisbury School building was first constructed 94 years ago, it originally welcomed grades K-12. By mid-century, the island's high school kids moved to another location when Tisbury became a K-8 facility.

Reality Bested Nostalgia to Get Voters Behind New School

Due to the old facility's age and history, the people of Tisbury, prior to voting on the school renovation and addition in the last few years, had strong feelings about preserving the building.

"I think people had a lot of misperceptions about the construction and the quality of this building," Houghton said. "It had sentimental value, but as you get into the building, you realize it should have been torn down [much earlier]. We're honoring the will of the people and building it the way people voted on, but had people known how diminished the situation was in here, they may not have voted the way they did."

In April, there were about 35 to 40 workers laying the foundation for the new addition. Following that, work in the school's main building involved installing plumbing and new bathrooms. Today, the number of crews has increased as the work ramps up, with an average of 100 to 120 people on the job every day, Brenner told the Martha's Vineyard news source.

Walking through the exposed bare bones of the school, one senses that even in its current state, it has an historic and academic air. Among the things to admire in the light-filled structure are the Tisbury School's high, vaulted ceilings, its steel beams, fresh floors and arching antique windows.

The finished product will include classrooms off a central hallway, small "breakout" rooms where students can work in groups, and a sparkling new, three-story multimedia library accessible on every floor via its new elevator.

Until then, Tisbury School students will continue to learn in modular buildings set up adjacent to the new school's construction. The temporary structures are equipped for all seasons with heat, air conditioning, electricity, multi-stall bathrooms, classrooms with whiteboards and administrative offices.

The school also uses a small, outdoor-campus area with tables under a tent as well as a makeshift playground/outdoor classroom with short stumps that serve as both seating and platforms for balancing exercises.

When the school is ready for students, according to Houghton, the entire construction project will still not be completely finished.

"Once they are in here, we anticipate there will be additional work that will have to be done on the site, like landscaping and cleaning up where the modular classrooms were," she explained. "But our hope is to have them in the building for the start of the 2024 school year."

School Designed to Be Friend to Environment

Houghton told the Times that the goal for the new facility is to be completely emission free. In accordance with that, the school will no longer run on fossil fuels but will instead be powered by electricity and solar power.

Watts pointed to another green upgrade to the property: a 40-ft.-long, 30-ft.-wide and 12-ft.-deep retaining system for stormwater runoff from the school to help mitigate flooding at five corners downhill from the building.

The main drainage system tank is estimated to hold up to 107,000 gal. of rainwater. The massive cistern has been installed and will be located beneath the playground to collect excessive rainwater and runoff. From the retaining system, the water then percolates down into the ground.

There are also two smaller tanks — one in the front of the building, and a second on its east side — to assist the town with stormwater runoff.

Between eliminating the old boiler room, utilizing solar, installing the stormwater drainage systems and making the building as safe and energy efficient as possible, the committee is trying to meet future standards, the Times noted.

On the island, Martha's Vineyard's Climate Action Plan, "The Vineyard Way," has set a goal to reduce fossil fuels to 50 percent by 2030, and to eliminate fossil fuel use entirely by 2040.

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