Officials in Tisbury are stepping up the hunt for new office space, as building conditions at both town hall and the town hall annex have deteriorated to the point where worker safety may be at risk. 

Mold at town hall and a rodent infestation at the annex have accelerated the search for alternative offices, leading a town task group to recommend taking over some of the modular buildings now in use at the Tisbury School when they become available next summer.

“There is a sense of urgency,” said retired Tisbury fire chief John Schilling, a member of the town hall task group, at a joint meeting with the Tisbury select board Wednesday.

Town hall has been struggling with mold and a lack of space. — Ray Ewing

Many questions remain about the feasibility of using the modular units, including how many the town would acquire, whether to lease or purchase them and where on town property to place them.

But the clock is ticking.

“We have to make a decision by Feb. 15 as to whether or not we would like to extend the lease or we would like to negotiate for purchase,” task group chair Amy Houghton said Wednesday.

Town administrator John (Jay) Grande said the group’s recommendation needs to be fully vetted before the town makes a decision, and that he does not want a short-term solution to eclipse the town’s long-standing need for a consolidated town hall.

“We have a building and infrastructure capital fund already established,” Mr. Grande said. “We need some decisive decision-making [and] a strong commitment to a timeline.”

On Wednesday, the select board set a Jan. 11 special town meeting date and authorized Mr. Grande to draft warrant articles seeking voter support for the temporary offices, with details to be determined over the next few weeks.

Planning board administrator Amy Upton looks over EduComp building plans. — Ray Ewing

The town task group was created in June to seek a consolidated solution for the town’s scattered municipal offices. Tisbury currently has a town hall on Spring street and an annex on High Point Lane, where the building, planning and health departments have been in trailer-like modular buildings for more than a decade. 

Planning board administrator Amy Upton, who works in the annex, said it’s barely fit for use.

“The actual building needs to go away,” she told officials at a joint meeting of the task group, town planning board and finance and advisory committee. “It’s garbage. There’s nothing to be done.”

On Monday, Ms. Upton gave the Gazette a tour of the annex, where a recent paint job on the exterior trim did little to distract the eye from holes shielded by plywood.

Inside the crowded annex, linoleum floors are patchy, one toilet can only be flushed by reaching into the tank and the ceilings are stained.

Some records at the town hall annex are stored in a shipping container. — Ray Ewing

Ms. Upton said she and other employees suffer from respiratory problems they suspect are connected to a recently-quelled rodent infestation above their offices.

“There are no currently-living mice up there, we’ve been told,” said Ms. Upton.

But no cleanup followed the exterminators’ treatment, leaving nest materials and excrement just on the other side of the thin ceiling tiles, she said.

“And what are we going to do about the new mice? We’re right next to the dump,” Ms. Upton said.

The annex also has run out of storage space. When documents are needed by the planning, health or building departments, Ms. Upton said, employees trudge outside to unbolt a shipping container stuffed with file boxes.

At town hall, Mr. Grande’s unheated former office is permanently locked due to mold; he and his  staff have moved to the Department of Public Works building on High Point Lane.

Modular buildings used by the Tisbury School could be a temporary solution. — Ray Ewing

The single-story town hall, a converted church built in 1844, remains crowded with a dozen employees, including town clerk J. Hillary Conklin and finance director Jon Snyder.

A sign on a bathroom door at the back of the building, near the stairs to Katharine Cornell Theatre, reads “[P]lease make sure to leave door open after use so pipes do not freeze.” 

The proposed modular units would serve as a stopgap to ease the space crisis while the town proceeds with its long-term goal of a consolidated municipal center.

“Realistically, I think it would be at least 10 years,” Tisbury finance and advisory committee chair Nancy Gilfoy said at a meeting last week.

The task group has talked with two owners of private properties that could accommodate a consolidated town hall: the old Educomp building downtown, now owned by Xerxes Agassi, and Brooke Katzen’s miniature golf course on State Road.

Those options were less appealing, Ms. Houghton said, because the town would have to either rent a limited amount of space in Mr. Agassi’s mixed-use development or buy and develop Mr. Katzen’s land.

However, Mr. Grande told the Gazette this week, no options are off the table.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from Wednesday's select board meeting.