Public funding for a project to repaint and restore the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown is on hold after the discovery by town officials that a work estimate provided by the Vineyard Trust had been altered to increase funding and change the description of the work.
The nearly $300,000 project was the subject of an article on the annual town meeting warrant last month, seeking $9,000 from the town historic preservation fund and $166,751 from the Community Preservation Act fund to cover 60 per cent of the work restoring front and rear facades of the church.
The article was indefinitely postponed by a unanimous vote on the town meeting floor with no explanation.
But it came to light this week that irregularities in the work estimate had been brought to the attention of town officials less than a day before the town meeting. Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty confirmed by phone Friday that changes to the original work estimate were made without the knowledge of John C. Anderson, the painting contractor who prepared the estimate. The changes included increasing the project costs by more than $60,000 over the original estimate and changing the word “painting” to “restoration”.
Under state law, Community Preservation Act money can be used for restoration work, but not maintenance, including painting. The original estimate from Mr. Anderson was for repainting.
Mr. Hagerty confirmed the work estimate was altered by Vineyard Trust executive director Funi Burdick, without the knowledge of Mr. Anderson.
Ms. Burdick did not return a phone call Friday afternoon seeking comment.
Edgartown officials said they plan to review prior funding requests from the Vineyard Trust and compare them with contractor estimates to see if there are other discrepancies.
“This is still an ongoing investigation with the town,” Mr. Hagerty said.
The issue was discussed at a meeting of the town Community Preservation Committee Thursday afternoon. According to draft minutes from the meeting provided to the Gazette, Mr. Hagerty explained the timeline of events.
“Less than 24 hours before town meeting, [Mr. Hagerty] had received troubling information regarding the accuracy of the Vineyard Trust quote. More specifically, that the quote had been altered by the Trust to reflect a different number and wording than what was originally presented by the contractor,” the draft minutes said.
Copies of three work estimates provided to the Gazette by the town appear to show an original typed estimate from Mr. Anderson, a marked up version with hand-written notes and a third typed version incorporating changes from the marked up version.
On Sept. 14, Mr. Anderson submitted a $231,617 estimate for painting work at the Whaling Church to Ms. Burdick and the Trust. The estimate described in detail the scope of the work, including safety precautions due to Covid-19.
On Oct. 20 Ms. Burdick submitted a formal request for $292,917 for restoration work to the church facade, columns and back porch. The work estimate had the same date and letterhead as Mr. Anderson’s original estimate, but the language and amounts were changed. A cover letter from Ms. Burdick outlined the work.
The marked up document provided to the Gazette by the town shows hand written changes to the Sept. 14 estimate, which were reflected in the Oct. 20 submission to the town. The word “painting” was crossed out and replaced with “restoration” and additional costs were penned in, including $20,000 for staging, $24,000 for back of church painting and $10,000 in additional material expenses.
Mr. Hagerty said after learning about the problems he questioned Mr. Anderson, who said he had not made any changes to the original work estimate he submitted to the Trust.
“The town found out about it, took immediate action, and we indefinitely postponed at town meeting because these are serious allegations. And if we did not have all the facts, the best course of action was to delay this,” Mr. Hagerty said on Friday.
He declined to say who brought the work estimate discrepancies to the town’s attention.
At the CPC meeting Thursday, Mr. Hagerty said he had met with the Vineyard Trust multiple times as well as Mr. Anderson in the interim, and decided to bring the issue before the committee, minutes show. The town administrator suggested the town review all Vineyard Trust invoices and reconcile them with contractor invoices.
“The committee agreed with Mr. Hagerty that a look back would be a responsible action,” the draft minutes show.
The Vineyard Trust is a private, nonprofit that owns and maintains about 20 historic buildings on Martha’s Vineyard, including the Whaling Church and the Flying Horses Carousel. The Trust owns the Vineyard Gazette building.
A grand and historic Greek Revival building that looms over Edgartown’s Main street, the Whaling Church was acquired by the Trust in 1980 and has long been one of its landmark properties. The Trust is responsible for the maintenance of the building, and has previously requested hundreds of thousands of dollars in Community Preservation funds to restore the 19th-century structure.
Used for community functions, including town meetings, private weddings and summer speaking events, the church was also used as a temporary overnight shelter this winter.
Ms. Burdick was hired as Trust executive director in 2016, previously serving as head of a national landmark Shaker village in New Hampshire.