The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School learned this week that it was not accepted into the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) grant program, dashing hopes for a fifth straight year that the state will provide reimbursement money for a planned multimillion-dollar overhaul of the ailing high school facility.

Vineyard schools superintendent Matthew D’Andrea informed the high school committee Monday night that an application submitted last April to the MSBA had been rejected. It marks the fifth time that the high school has applied to the highly competitive grant program and been rejected.

The high school was last upgraded in 1995. A variety of short-term facility repairs have taken place in the last two years, including a new roof and new surface on the failed track. But a major overhaul of both the building and athletic fields remains pending. Last year Mr. D’Andrea had expressed hope that the school would gain acceptance into the grant program, which provides significant reimbursement for school building projects.

School committee members and Mr. D’Andrea have said that each year they are rejected from the program, the regional high school moves higher up in the queue.

But a spokesman for the MSBA said this week that is not the case. 

“They’re not moving up the list because there is no list,” said MSBA director of external affairs Maria Puopolo. “[Schools] are assessed based on need each year.” 

The MSBA is a state program created to facilitate the process of funding large-scale capital improvement projects in the commonwealth’s public schools. Ms. Puopolo said the grants are awarded based on urgent facility needs. 

This year the MSBA grant program will distribute $600 million to 11 schools. There were 61 applicants for grants. 

“It was unfortunate news that we were denied,” high school committee chairman Kimberly Kirk told the Gazette in a telephone interview later. “Obviously they had schools with greater need, and with the amount of money they had available, we just didn’t hit the target.”

School business administrator Amy Tierney said the school committee is growing increasingly frustrated at its inability to get started on a high school renovation project. 

Last year the committee attempted to get ahead by asking Island towns to fund a feasibility study, which would have been the first step after being accepted into the grant program. The study, which would have cost $1.4 million, required approval from all six towns. In the end it failed after it was rejected by Oak Bluffs voters, including school committee members. The vote was framed as a gesture of protest over the regional school funding formula, which Oak Bluffs feels is unfairly weighted toward the town.

Later attempts to find some consensus on the funding formula dispute also failed, and the feasibility study remained in limbo.

The political discord has been a complicating factor in the MSBA application, Ms. Tierney said.

“We have tried with the MSBA and it’s not working. We have tried with the towns and that’s not working either,” she said. “An underlying factor is that [the MSBA] knows at least one of our towns [Oak Bluffs] is not on board with the renovation of the school.”

The MSBA application included several questions about whether the proposed renovations are part of a larger facilities plan or master education plan, to which school leaders answered no.

There has also been confusion and discord over an $11 million project to overhaul and upgrade the high school athletic fields. The school has begun design work, but there is no money yet to pay for construction. Mr. D’Andrea has said the project will be paid for through private fundraising, although he has provided few details.

The field project, which plans to use some artificial turf, will eventually require review by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

The MSBA grant application (called a Statement of Interest) signed by Mr. D’Andrea and Ms. Kirk and submitted April 12, 2019, estimated complete renovation costs for the high school at around $75 million. The application mentions the expansion of the athletic fields among major capital needs such as a new HVAC system, a domestic hot water system analysis, renovations to the building envelope and many safety features, but does not identify priorities or other potential funding sources for any of the capital projects.

Ms. Tierney, who will leave her job at the school district next month to take a job as the Edgartown town accountant, said the need grows more urgent each year. Without grant assistance, she said the high school has attempted to embed small capital projects into the budget while asking the towns to fund larger capital expenses through separate warrant articles at town meetings. 

“The only reason we have been stalling is because we have been waiting on the big renovation,” she said. “Capital expenditures will need to be spread out through warrant articles over the next few years . . . we are going to have to start just putting them out there.” 

She said another option is for the school district to pay for renovations through a 10- or 20-year bond. This is how the last renovation of the high school was done in 1995. That renovation cost about $18 million and had the backing of voters. 

Meanwhile, Ms. Kirk said the school committee remains dedicated to obtaining an MSBA grant and will reapply next year. 

“We are all hoping that we are going to be accepted into the MSBA program next year,” she said. “I don’t think we have an urgent need today . . . [but] there are certainly some things on the list that we will need to deal with in the near future.” 

Mr. D’Andrea did not return repeated telephone calls from the Gazette seeking comment.

On Monday he told the school committee that the facilities subcommittee will be reconvening next week to craft a strategy going forward. 

“We have done a good job of staying on top of this building as best we can,” the superintendent said. “But we have some big projects that we need to really think about . . . This is something we have been struggling with and we have to continue to plug away because I know we can figure this thing out.”

The high school statement of interest follows: