Tisbury voters head to the polls today and Tuesday for the second time in three years to determine the fate of a $55 million renovation and overhaul of their town school.
Early voting is today, with polls open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Emergency Services building. Polls will be open from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday. Absentee voting in person is also available, with applications due June 21 at noon.
In the much-watched election, voters will also decide a two-way contest for the select board and a $5 million question to upgrade town roadways and sidewalks.
But topping the ballot is the $55 million borrowing request to renovate and expand the 92-year-old Tisbury School. The question asks voters to exempt the bond debt from the provisions of Proposition 2 1/2, the state tax cap. A simple majority vote is needed.
The project saw overwhelming support at a special town meeting last Sunday, passing 237-5.
Nevertheless, the second hurdle looms large for supporters of the project — who include a wide-ranging town building committee and all the leading town boards. In 2018 a $46 million school easily passed at town meeting and failed at the ballot box by 21 votes. After that, the town was forced to forfeit $14 million in state reimbursement money and start over.
“People need to get out and vote — and we hope they vote yes,” school committee chairman Amy Houghton told the Gazette by phone Wednesday.
“The school committee and select board were thrilled to see such strong support on the town meeting floor, but we recognize that a significant number of people did not come to the town meeting,” Ms. Houghton said. “We hope too to see a strong turnout . . . This has been a long process.”
The election marks the capstone moment in a winding, multi-year journey to renovate the old school building after months of planning, dozens of public meetings and the discovery of chipping lead paint in the building during the summer of 2019.
The new project looks to preserve the skeleton of the old building and rebuild the interior as an energy-neutral school. The town plans to borrow the $55 million in bonds over the next 30 years to fund the project, adding about $93 in yearly taxes for every $100,000 of assessed value.
Ms. Houghton bluntly acknowledged the financial realities for the town.
“It’s a big ask,” she said, reiterating that project leaders are “absolutely” committed to finding ways to reduce the cost, including through government grants and some form of property tax rebate program for senior citizens. “But before we can do any of that we need to have an approved project,” Ms. Houghton said.
A second question on the ballot seeks to exempt the debt for $5 million in improvements 30 town roadways in the coming decade, including repairing and replacing sidewalks and drainage.
Like the school project, the measure won a two-thirds majority at the annual town meeting last week and will require majority approval at the ballot box.
Voters will also decide a two-way race for a three-year seat of the select board. One-term incumbent James (Jim) Rogers, an electrician and retired firefighter, is seeking reelection. Roy Cutrer Jr., a real estate broker, is the challenger.
There are no other contested races.
Julia Wells contributed reporting.