Faced with the prospect that the Chilmark School will not be repaired by September, selectmen on Tuesday night discussed how the town might get through another year with the building in its current condition.
The selectmen's meeting, nearly three hours long, was the first ever in their new conference room on the second floor of the renovated town hall. But the new room was filled with discussions of old problems, ranging from disputes between town departments to a call for a new town personnel administrator.
Tim Carroll, the town's executive secretary, told selectmen it may not be possible to repair the Chilmark School in time for the fall term. The building's floor tiles have come unglued. The overhead plumbing continues to burst during winter cold snaps, and there remains a serious need for more insulation. Last month, voters at their special town meeting approved the spending of $200,000 toward repairs. Estimates have put the entire project cost at more than $400,000.
Mr. Carroll told the selectmen that getting work started at the school is a bureaucratic problem. He told the board there are on-Island subcontractors ready to move, but he has been advised by the state that Chilmark must go through a special waiver process to get a general contractor to oversee the project.
Last winter the town hired architect Peter Breese to draw up a repair plan and to develop a strategy for addressing building flaws that have arisen since the $3.6 million school was completed in October of 1999. Floor repairs alone are expected to cost $107,000, and insulation work will cost $103,000.
Last May the town went out to bid on the project, but there were no bidders. Much of June was spent trying to figure out a next step. Mr. Carroll told selectmen that in order to avoid going out to bid again he was able to get a waiver from the state Division of Capital Asset Management. Now he has been charged with finding a state-qualified general contractor from an 185-page list. "I am not aware of any general contractor from the Island on that list," he told the Gazette after the meeting.
Mr. Carroll told the Gazette: "I need a general contractor to do the dry walling, demolition, small electrical work, plumbing and painting. The big part is blown insulation." The whole project will take four weeks.
At the meeting, selectman Frank Fenner said he worried there just wasn't enough time to do the work before school starts.
"So there has to be a plan B," said selectman Riggs Parker.
Board members discussed the possibility that the school might have to start without the work being done.
"It is very difficult trying to get something done," said Mr. Fenner, referring to this time of year. The board members talked about the possibility of heating the crawlspace in the attic during the winter as a stopgap measure to prevent the interior pipes from bursting. Board members agreed they need to redouble their efforts to find a general contractor.
There is plenty of reason to get the school ready. Later in the selectmen's meeting, they heard from Alicia Knight, who proposes to run a preschool in at least one of the classrooms in the school. She outlined a plan to open the school to 12 to 15 young children and hire two teachers. Enrollment in the class would cost between $5,000 and $6,000 a year per student, and she already has a growing list of interested parents.
"I'd like to do all I can to facilitate this," said Mr. Doty. He suggested that the town might lease the room to the preschool for $1 for the season. "We don't want income from this. We want a wonderful program for 15 children." The board members urged her to move ahead with her plans.
Mrs. Knight told the selectmen she intended to meet with the school committee next week.
Mr. Parker said he supported the idea and felt that a preschool would be a service to the town and serve as a feeder program for the Chilmark School, which has seen declining enrollment.
Mrs. Knight said she hoped to open the school to Chilmark children first and then expand the openings, if there is room, to residents of Aquinnah and West Tisbury. She said a survey done earlier was favorably received.
In their busy night, selectmen also gave their support to a request by the personnel board to look into the possibility of hiring a part-time personnel administrator.
Max McCreery, a new member of the personnel board, told selectmen the town has 80 employees during the summer, and that there is a serious need to meet all the federal and state requirements.
Selectmen recently hired an assistant to the personnel board to work 16 hours a month. But Mr. McCreery told the selectmen there is enough paperwork for 20 hours every week.
Mr. McCreery said he didn't want to be critical of the executive secretary, who attends to many of those issues, but that the work isn't getting done. He said the town hall needs a person to coordinate job reviews and hear personnel complaints. He said: "Just one lawsuit can make be the difference."
Mr. Doty asked whether the committee had any sense of the expected cost.
Mr. McCreery said that the cost might be $25,000 per year, and that there are people on the Island who are qualified. He said other towns on the Island are doing it, so it isn't a new idea.
Bea Atkinson, the town hall employee representative to the personnel board, said: "There is no one on the town employees', on our side." She is the administrative assistant to the planning board and the conservation commission.
Lois Norton, of the personnel board, said her board wants permission from the selectmen to get the information needed to make a decision. She said they want to know what the costs will be. She said: "Tim has so much else going on."
The selectmen agreed to allow the board to put a proposal together.
Mr. Doty urged them to prepare some numbers for the selectmen to discuss with the finance committee. "It is a good idea, but we need to look at the big picture," he said.
In other business, the board heard town treasurer Melanie Becker complain about what she described as the unpleasant treatment she had received in the last two weeks from Margaret T. Orlando, town clerk.
Mrs. Becker said the town clerk had failed to file documents correctly as needed by the state. "This is part of an ongoing problem. I need a response from the selectmen to get the paperwork done. It is vitally important," she said.
Polly McDowell, collector of taxes, sat next to Mrs. Becker and spoke on her behalf. Ms. McDowell said: "Melanie approaches people with utmost respect and grace. She has maintained her dignity, which she is not afforded in return. I hope she will get the support she deserves."
The selectmen agreed to schedule a meeting with all the parties, a meeting that might be held in executive session because it involves personnel matters.
"We will move on this issue," said Mr. Doty.