Chris Scott, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust, has thought of a new idea for the old elementary school in Edgartown.
Mr. Scott went before selectmen Monday to suggest housing the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in the 19,000 square foot building, next to the Edgartown elementary school, which has been vacant for five years.
The board loved the idea.
“That’s winning, why didn’t we think of that?” said selectman Arthur Smadbeck after listening to Mr. Scott’s report. “I enthusiastically encourage the Martha’s Vineyard Museum to take over this building, it would be a great boon to the town,” he added, as part of a motion urging the old school reuse committee, chaired by James Cisek, to contact museum managers and advance the evaluation.
The museum, currently located in a complex in Edgartown that includes the historic Thomas Cooke house on the corner of School and Cooke streets, has been planning a move to West Tisbury since 2002 when its board decided more room was needed for its artifacts.
The museum acquired two acres of land in West Tisbury in 2003, situated between Polly Hill and the Agricultural Society — two organizations with which the museum collaborates.
It also recently purchased a 150-year-old dairy barn from the town of Shirley for $1, intending to use it as part of a new structure. Some of the timber from the building is already at the West Tisbury site, with the rest due to arrive in the next few weeks.
Despite all this, Mr. Scott’s idea may have come at a good time.
“We are in the process of resetting our capital campaign because of the economic climate.” said Keith Gorman, executive chairman of the museum.
“It’s something we want to take seriously,” said the director.
Mr. Gorman told the Gazette that a task force has been assembled to investigate the idea’s viability, and that the museum is flattered that Edgartown wants them to stay.
The task force will investigate issues such as size and overall suitability of the space for the museum, and Mr. Gorman cautioned that the building may have structural issues associated with many old buildings — from asbestos lined pipes to lead paint — which need to be investigated.
Not that the West Tisbury plan is issue-free. For a start there is not even a building on the site. “With a new property you have issues to do with roads, sewage etc,” he said.
The reuse committee was established in 2000 while construction on the new school was still in progress, to explore new possibilities for the 1920s brick building. Since then selectmen have heard plans to house the town library, the council on aging, a new performing arts center and the school superintendent’s office — all of which are now delayed or abandoned.
The museum officially got its start in 1923 when the Dukes County Historical Society was formed to preserve scrimshaw and other knickknacks of maritime history. It existed in various residents’ houses for decades before the society bought the Thomas Cooke house in the 1950s.
“It seems to be an idea that’s going to get a good vetting,” said Mr. Scott. “In my experience in most cases if you find a reuse as close as possible to its original purposes, it’s successful.”
The preservation trust, dedicated to managing historic Island buildings, has followed this model regularly. West Tisbury’s grange hall was an agricultural hall and now houses the farmers’ market and is a general space for Vineyard artisans. The Old Whaling Church retains a religious usage and is a civic center for Edgartown. The trust was also responsible for buying and renovating the Flying Horses carousel at the foot of Circuit avenue in Oak Bluffs.
While the school building has never served any other use, Mr. Scott considers its institutional appearance enough of a connection.
“It would be a handsome and functional museum space,” he said.