After a year of heated community debate, which drew large crowds in public forums and at least one threatened lawsuit, the Martha’s Vineyard High School Committee has voted unanimously to endorse a proposal to repair the district’s deteriorating athletic fields with natural grass.
The vote was taken on May 11, after MV@Play, a group previously in negotiations with the committee to update and expand fields through a combination of natural grass and synthetic turf, postponed a scheduled meeting with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.
According to a representative from MV@Play, the group wanted to give local advocate group Vineyarders for Grass Fields an opportunity to present their proposal to the school committee and administration. MV@Play also provided their working field design from consulting firm Gale Associates of Weymouth.
Over the past year, community members have voiced numerous concerns over the initial synthetic field combination proposal, raising issues such as potential health risks, funding for maintenance and long-term replacement, and the possible impact on watershed.
As a result of the May 11 vote, the committee will move forward with the proposal from Vineyarders for Grass Fields, which details a new track at the high school, upgraded fields the island over and provisions for continued maintenance.
The $6 million project will be funded through the Permanent Endowment of Martha’s Vineyard. The estimated cost includes $2 million for the new track, as well as the creation of a new paid position, the Island grass superintendent, who will be in charge of field maintenance at $45,000 annually.
Superintendent of schools Matt D’Andrea told the MV Times that the school is already in a contract and license agreement with MV@Play, but it will be rescinded after terms are settled upon for collaboration with Vineyarders for Grass Fields.
“Rather than engage in a contentious debate at the commission, this could be accepted as a compromise,” said D’Andrea.
David Wallis, president of MV@Play told the MV Times, “If there’s any opportunity that could help the kids, the school, and the community on this, we really feel strongly for us not to get in the way of that.”
The natural grass proposal was carefully chosen as an organic solution in agreement with Oak Bluffs and Island legislation regulating groundwater and fertilizers.
It was developed with help from local hydrologist Craig Saunders and Jeff Carlson, superintendent of Edgartown’s Vineyard Golf Club, which is home to one of the first organically maintained courses in the nation.
Vineyarders for Grass Fields spokesperson Rebekah Thomson told the MV Times that the group is focused on developing an enduring, all-organic approach to field maintenance. “We are completely committed to that,” she said.