A bare quorum of Chilmark voters agreed without dissent this week to borrow another $200,000 to pay for a mounting list of problems in the physical plant at the Chilmark School.
"We are a little embarrassed but we are trying to put our best foot forward and fix the problems," said selectman Frank Fenner at a special town meeting held Wednesday night in the Chilmark Community Center.
The meeting saw a light turnout - about 40 voters attended. In Chilmark, 25 makes a quorum. Town moderator Everett Poole presided.
The money request was the sole article on the warrant.
And while the money was approved unanimously, Chilmark selectmen also told voters that they now have a new problem: A deadline passed early this week for bids on the school repair project, and there were no bidders.
"We got no bids," Mr. Fenner told voters.
Mr. Fenner said the town will not be forced to rebid the project, but will consult a list of state bonded contractors to see if someone can be found to do the work. He did not elaborate, but Mr. Fenner said selectmen are still optimistic about getting the repair work done on the school during the summer recess.
"We really feel it is necessary to do the repairs this summer," he said.
Completed in 1999 at a cost of $3.6 million, the school has been plagued with problems almost from the day it opened. The most pressing current problems include failed floor tiles and faulty insulation.
At the outset of the meeting Wednesday, Chilmark selectman and board chairman Warren Doty gave a detailed history of the problems in the school.
"In December of 1999 we moved in. . . . January of 2000 was the first freeze-up," Mr. Doty said. He said things were fine during the next couple of winters, when the weather was mild; but this winter, which saw record cold temperatures, the problems returned with a vengeance.
The contractor for the building - Standen Contracting Inc. - was released from any legal liability in 1999 when the town settled a dispute with the company and held back $90,000. There has been some discussion in executive session about the possibility of suing the Cambridge architect who designed the project, but it is not known whether the selectmen will pursue litigation.
In putting projects like the school out for bid, the town is bound to follow the Uniform Procurement Act, a state law that governs contracts for capital spending projects over $25,000. Under that law, the town is required to accept the low bidder.
Mr. Fenner and Mr. Doty said two problems which require immediate attention include the need to repair the floor tiles, which are all coming unglued, and the need to repair the insulation, which is inadequate.
An early chemical analysis of the floor tiles shows that it is likely that the wrong adhesive was used, Mr. Fenner said. He said the analysis is not complete yet.
"I think we can say that we responded in a rational way by having a complete study of the building. . . . We know now what we need to fix the building and we have to move ahead with it," Mr. Doty said.
"We're asking for money tonight to do those two things: fix the floor and fix the ceiling," Mr. Fenner said.
Total cost estimate for repairs is $400,000. Detailed plans were laid out on a table outside the meeting room. The floor work is expected to cost $107,000, and the insulation work is expected to cost another $103,000.
Mr. Fenner said selectmen hope to accomplish the remaining repairs by doing them as smaller projects, and possibly avoiding the need to put the work out to bid.
"We're here tonight to try to get $200,000 to do the repairs we think are necessary at this time. We are asking you to put trust in the selectmen to manage these funds," Mr. Fenner said.
At times there was a mixed message of sorts, as the selectmen praised the quality of the school building which has been fraught with problems.
"It really is a class job; there is no problem with the building," Mr. Fenner said at one point.
The $200,000 will be added to another $100,000 already appropriated by voters at an earlier town meeting. About $30,000 has been spent to date on investigating and analyzing the problems at the school.
Town resident and former town treasurer Judith Jardin had a question about debt exclusion.
"That first $100,000 was under a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion. Will you ask for debt exclusion for this $200,000?" she asked.
There was a long silence while selectmen conferred quietly at their table at the head of the meeting room.
"I think the answer is yes," Mr. Doty finally said. "We put this together hastily in trying to get the project done, so we didn't call a special election."
Mr. Doty also introduced newly elected selectman J.B. Riggs Parker Jr., who drew a round of applause from voters. And at the end of the meeting there was more applause for the entire board of selectmen for their handling of the thorny problems with the town grammar school.
As the meeting adjourned, Mr. Doty offered a reflection.
"Every project we do in this town we begin with great optimism," he said, adding with a small smile: "We are going to move into the new town hall addition next week."