If students at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School don’t already fear being sent to the principal’s office, they may well after this week.

“There are rodents in my ceiling,” principal Gilbert Traverso told members of the regional high school district committee during an early-morning tour of the high school facility Tuesday. “I’ve had to call more than once to get the dead mice removed from the traps in my ceiling.”

The eye-opening tour preceded a meeting to review the draft high school budget for 2016.

"This just isn't an ideal environment," Mr. Traverso said. — Sydney Bender

Rodents aren’t just in the principal’s office nor are they the only building maintenance issue at the high school.

“There are repairs needed and maintenance concerns I have all around the school,” Mr. Traverso told the dozen committee members who joined him for the tour.

In a phone conversation with the Gazette later, Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss said most of the issues in the building have been known and are the result of long-deferred maintenance.

“It’s not that nobody knew about it,” Mr. Weiss said. “Since 2008, due to a significant revenue shortfall from the state, we did not put money in the budget for maintenance. Now that has caught up with us.”

The school visit began inside the football weight room where the principal pointed out the lack of air ventilation and mildew on the walls and ceilings. “This just isn’t an ideal environment,” he said, adding: “You’ll see this all over the school, too.”

The tour continued to the horticulture greenhouse, into the kitchen cafeteria and inside the wood shop and auto mechanic rooms, all of which had similar problems: outdated machinery, broken windows with rotting frames and a lack of air circulation.

Inside the culinary kitchen, while students kneaded bread and made Italian dressing, head culinary teacher Jack O’Malley opened the walk-in freezer door to show the committee the oxidized frozen ceiling. “This is not a food safety issue,” Mr. O’Malley told the committee, “but it is an issue.”

Mr. Traverso called the culinary arts program working conditions some of the worst he’s “seen in 25 years of voc-ed.”

Almost all the hallways in the school, Mr. Traverso pointed out, have rotting skylights and warped ceiling tiles with water damage. There are some floors with holes in them, posing a major problem for students with disabilities, the principal said.

Inside the gymnasium, there are no cages protecting lights, fire extinguishers or sprinklers. “If a basketball hits a sprinkler, then that would be a huge problem,” committee chairman Colleen McAndrews observed.

At the budget subcommittee meeting that followed, Mr. Traverso shared his concerns with the rest of the group and said building repairs should be considered a top priority for the 2016 fiscal budget.

“I’m a small voice but I’m going to say this: Walking into this building and seeing the Band-Aid approach and postponement approach . . . all I’m asking for is for kids to be exposed to not unhealthy conditions and a fair representation of what we can provide students on the Island for an education,” he said, adding: “I’m a little alarmed now because the way business has been done up to this point, it has not been productive.” Mr. Traverso is new to the job and took the helm this year, following the resignation of former principal Stephen Nixon last spring.

Committee members reacted with their own concern and alarm.

“I’ve been in the school system for almost 10 years . . . how did it get this bad without us hearing about it?” said Mrs. McAndrews. “I feel like if the towns were aware of this I would be shocked if the towns didn’t support us,” she added.

“I agree,” said committee member Janet Packer.

Matt D’Andrea, assistant superintendent who served briefly as interim principal following Mr. Nixon’s departure, also expressed concern. “When I came in here as principal I recognized a need in the building . . . but today it really did open my eyes with Gil pointing out some things the building really needs,” he said. “I think when we look at priorities, air quality has to be number one. Our students are walking around this building with no air exchange, we need to consider that and I wanted to put that out there. Second thing is, this is not the only building in this district that has serious facility needs . . . . and now we’re talking about millions of dollars to fix it.”

Committee member Susan Mercier zeroed in on the gym conditions.

“I have to say, how many times have you been in that gym and those lights have no cages?” she said. “It’s a safety issue. I mean I really truly love Vineyard basketball but that gives us some pause in sitting in the stands. Or the sprinkler system . . . wild. Where do we go from here?”

A public hearing for the high school budget is set for Monday at 7 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center.

In the short term, committee members suggested to Mr. Weiss that the maintenance line in the budget be increased to $175,000. Mrs. McAndrews also suggested making a list of items that could realistically be fixed immediately and then another list to be added to a future capital expense.

“I’m thinking kids shouldn’t have to do Zumba on that rug that’s got stuff spilled on it, and a new oven in the cafeteria, that’s not something we should put off and talk about in a capital plan for four years,” she said. “We can’t keep ignoring these simple things, it’s not fair to the students and teachers.”

Mr. Weiss told the Gazette that two major issues at the high school — the roof and the HVAC systems —were identified more than a year ago as problems during a school evaluation. The school roof has since been repaired and money is in the budget this year for an engineering study to evaluate the HVAC problems, he said.

He said putting the spotlight on the crumbling facility this week was intentional, especially in the vocational section of the school. “These shops were built a long time ago and they need to be upgraded. We are aware of that,” he said.

Meanwhile, the $18.4 million high school budget, while down slightly this year, will take a hit due to the loss of some $800,000 in annual reimbursement money from the state for bond repayments that date to the last building upgrade 20 years ago. The bond has been paid off, which is good news, Mr. Weiss noted, but state reimbursement money will also go away, which translates to a loss in revenue. He said the committee is recommending taking $175,000 from the school excess and deficiency fund (like a town’s free cash fund) to soften the blow to town assessments.

As for the building issues, Mr. Weiss said he wants to see the school district come up with a solid, comprehensive plan. “We want to solve this the right way, not just spend money here and there to fix the small things,” he said. He called the HVAC issues a priority. “Is it a sick building? No, I am not saying that,” Mr. Weiss said. “I’m saying we have to fix the HVAC system so it doesn’t get to that.”