Lieut. Gov. Timothy Murray’s trip to the Vineyard Monday took him from surveying a damaged seawall in Oak Bluffs to watching culinary students cook chicken Marsala at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.
Mr. Murray was at the high school Monday as part of his effort to visit all of the more than 60 vocational programs in the state. During his tour of the high school he saw students at work in most of the school’s five vocational programs: the culinary arts students were chopping mushrooms, while over in the automotive department, students were learning to repair brakes. Bill Seabourne’s building trade students were putting up some rafters on a storage shed, and the horticulture students were out in the garden, of course.
In the horticulture greenhouse, seniors Alex Bilzerian and Mike Hall talked about the program and showed off zucchini, cucumbers and tomatoes to the lieutenant governor, who in turn asked for a tutorial about how to better grow his own tomatoes. Horticulture instructor John Wojtkielo offered to do a soil sample test for Mr. Murray.
The lieutenant governor, who wore a tie with whales on it for his Vineyard trip, said he was visiting all of the schools and making sure “they don’t get forgotten about in the education debate.”
“You are making good decisions by exposing yourself to real world skills,” he told the building trade students.
Mr. Murray told the Gazette that he’s made vocational programs a priority.
“The needs of [vocational] schools are unique,” he said. “More capital-intensive.” He said that with a skills gap in the state and required expertise for some jobs, vocational schools can have an important role.
Vocational schools also have higher graduation rates, lower dropout rates and higher MCAS scores, he said. That “speaks to the quality of instruction,” he said, and could provide an example for other schools.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Murray toured the North Bluff in Oak Bluffs with town officials. The town hopes to apply for funding for repairs to the bluff, which officials said has been battered by storms, as well as a new boardwalk to connect the area to the business district.
Several people at the meeting, which included three selectmen and the police chief, said they recalled the days when there was a beach in front of the seawall. Now the ocean comes up to the wall, and the concrete seawall is eroding, with chunks missing in some places.
Engineer Carlos Pena presented plans to rebuild the seawall four feet higher and add a 720-foot boardwalk between the Steamship Authority pier and the area where the Island Queen and other ferries unload passengers. Mr. Pena said the boardwalk would allow ferry passengers to travel safely from boats to the downtown area, which they are currently unable to do.
“Our big dilemma is how do we get these thousands of people to the business district . . . in a safe manner,” town administrator Robert Whritenour said during a meeting at the Lookout Tavern. He said that now, they walk down the street “like zombies.”
The boardwalk proposal is coupled with the need to repair the North Bluff seawall and add beach nourishment to the area in front of the wall, which some noted was once a popular beach. Now, the beach has been replaced with rocks and waves.
Another project is in the works for a fishing pier in the area; that project has already been funded by the state Department of Fish and Game and construction will start soon.
The cost of the project is more than $6 million; Mr. Whritenour said the town has applied for $2 million from the Seaport Advisory Council, which is chaired by Mr. Murray, as well as a $2 million grant from the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The town has also applied for some Federal Emergency Management Agency funding for the seawall.
The group climbed down the bluff off Sea View avenue extension — carefully, as the stairs have been damaged — to survey the broken concrete seawall and other damage.
Mr. Murray noted that recent storms had created a “crisis situation” in maritime communities.
The North Bluff and the harbor were mostly empty Monday morning, save for a few seagulls. But town members emphasized how busy the town harbor becomes in the summer months.
“In season, you can walk across this harbor on boats,” conservation commission chair Joan Hughes said.
On the way back to the Lookout Tavern, the group walked down the middle of the road — proving the need for a boardwalk, conservation agent Liz Durkee pointed out.