With funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC), Polly Hill Arboretum plans to break ground in September on a new educational center and botany lab. The arboretum was one of many groups in Dukes County to receive funding from the council this year.

Private donations and a matching grant from the Cedar Tree Foundation in Boston will also support the project, which is expected to cost about $1 million. The 3,000-square-foot building will replace a small barn known as the Gym, and will allow for expanded year-round educational programming.

19th century barn known as the Far Barn is now used for classes and lectures, but lacks a heating system. — Timothy Johnson

After applying unsuccessfully for MCC funding last year, the arboretum lowered the amount of its request and reapplied, receiving a $200,000 grant in February. Eighteen cultural and community groups in Dukes County will share more than $550,000 in MCC grants this year.

Island horticulturalist Polly Hill began developing the arboretum in 1958, eventually cultivating 20 acres and preserving another 40 acres as native woodland. An additional 10 acres were purchased in 2002 for a plant nursery and maintenance facility. The arboretum is now a nonprofit institute dedicated to botanical studies and landscape preservation.

The idea for a new building came up during a planning session 10 years ago. “One of the things that was missing in terms of serving our membership and the general public was an indoor education facility,” executive director Tim Boland said Tuesday. A 19th century barn known as the Far Barn was renovated in 2011 and has housed most of the group’s classes and lectures. But without a heating system, the barn is unusable for more than half the year.

Mr. Boland expected final plans for the center to be ready by mid-August. “The contractors are on site,” he said. “It’s just a matter of accumulating the costs and then sending them in.” The MCC would then provide reimbursements.

Rendering of proposed new education center.

The main goal is to expand year-round programming for students, professionals and the general community. The arboretum already provides training for many Island conservation groups and the new building will be an important part of that work. “It just turns out to be a huge new advancement for us,” Mr. Boland said.  

The arboretum also grows native plants from seeds collected on the Island and supplies them to local school. It will also work this year to restore native vegetation around the Gay Head Light in Aquinnah, which was moved 129 feet from the eroding clay cliffs in May.

The new center will be able to accommodate up to 45 people, and a climate-controlled lab will allow for the preparation and storage of dried plants. With solar panels, triple insulation and possibly a rainwater collection system, the building will be highly efficient, Mr. Boland said.

But the goal was also to design a building that would blend in with the Vineyard landscape. Margaret Curtain of Vineyard Haven and Peter Rodegast of West Tisbury designed the building to include a sloped roof and cedar shingles in the style of other buildings on the campus, which include an 18th century homestead and Ms. Hill’s former home, now a horticultural library and guest house.

Mr. Boland said the MCC had appreciated the modest size and appearance of the new building, which will stand at the center of the arboretum and be highly visible from the road. A 54-year-old Japanese Stewartia tree, the largest of its type in North America, was protected in the siting process. Ms. Hill herself planted the tree in the early 1960s.

New building has been designed to fit in with the pastoral landscape. — Timothy Johnson

State Rep. Tim Madden and state Sen. Vinny deMacedo helped organize an awards ceremony at the West Falmouth Library on June 9. “I am happy to see such support for cultural organizations and community groups whose work enriches our lives and improves our communities through the arts, humanities and sciences,” Mr. Madden said in a statement. He also commended the applicants who “secured this funding in such a competitive grant cycle.”

Mr. Boland credited Mr. Madden and Mr. deMacedo, along with state Sen. Dan Wolf, for championing the causes of cultural groups on the Island. “It’s really impressive that the Vineyard has received this attention,” he said. “And we’re very fortunate to have a pretty good-sized gift this year.”

Other groups to receive MCC funding include the town of Aquinnah, which received $280,000 to support the Gay Head Light relocation project, and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which received $10,000 to support tourism on the Cape and Islands. The Gosnold, West Tisbury and Martha’s Vineyard cultural councils also received funding.