MVRHS Field Plan hits a potential delay

The Martha's Vineyard Regional School Committee is pursuing legislative action that will allow the high school to accept a large donation for the athletic field. — Stacey Rupolo

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) is looking for a new approach to renovation of its playing fields after recently learning that state legislation is required that could delay the project, and possibly derail it if legislative approval is denied.

The MVRHS school committee, Schools Superintendent Matt D’Andrea, and a donor group with $2 million to fund the renovation project have been looking for ways to install all-grass playing fields at the MVRHS athletic complex.

The sticking point at present is that the donor group, called the Field Fund, wants a legally binding guarantee that only grass will be used in renovations, a guarantee that the school is not empowered to give without a legislative signoff, Mr. D’Andrea said this week.

The matter came to a head last week after Mr. D’Andrea told the MVRHS school committee and the fund that on the advice of counsel, the project as it stands runs afoul of state law that prohibits restrictions on the use of public land.

The use-restriction issue arises in this case because the current renovation plan under consideration calls for the use of natural grass only on the fields, and prohibits, or restricts, the use of synthetic turf.

The school committee meeting last week was scheduled to hear a third and final reading of a licensing agreement between MVRHS and the Field Fund, under which the Field Fund would be licensed to undertake renovation and maintenance for 10 years, beginning with renovation of the currently unusable MVRHS track in time for the 2019 fall track season.

Instead, they learned that legislative approval was necessary, and they began consideration of a proposal by Mr. D’Andrea that the Field Fund gift money for the track and field work while the legislative work unfolded.

This week both sides said they were committed to the project despite the frustrations involved in the process.

“We are holding out hope we can get this done,” Field Fund organizer Rebekah Thomson said this week, “but at this point every approach has been shot down by school attorneys.”

After receiving an email after the school committee meeting from Mr. D’Andrea, stating the school will pursue the legislative-approval route, Field fund member Molly Doyle said, “We’ve written a letter to the school saying that evidently all previous offers are off the table, so why don’t you come to us? The ball is in the school’s court,” she said.

“They want a gift with no conditions. Our donors aren’t interested in just funding a track, but in a larger approach, to all-grass at the high school and across the Island, an idea that has attracted positive attention elsewhere,” Ms. Thomson said.

From his perspective, Mr. D’Andrea said this week that “the Field Fund wants to do something incredibly generous, and we want them to, but the fact of the matter is that they are asking something the school committee doesn’t have the authority to do. We cannot promise to be legally bound to guarantee grass fields without legislative and possibly town meeting approval to make that happen.”

Mr. D’Andrea is hoping his plan to redo the track in grass, while pursuing legislative approval to allow guarantees, can work. ”Next step, we have to hunker down, go back to the drawing board, and see if we and the fund can figure this out for the kids,” he said.