To the Editor:
On Monday evening I attended the meeting at the Performing Arts Center where the public was invited to comment on the proposal of MV@Play to install one or more artificial turf (AT) fields at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS).
I found the event-load argument for the AT fields to be circular: The plan creates the conditions — heavier event load via “centralization” of sports activities — that then require the installation of AT.
A proposal that requires fundraising an additional $3.5 million and then unknown maintenance costs is not a “gift,” as various speakers repeatedly referred to it, one stating, “We’d be crazy to turn down this gift.” It looks more like a pig in a poke.
Despite the basic positives of the public’s getting an opportunity to comment, I was disappointed with the process that I witnessed. Notwithstanding some committee members’ stating that they had only recently heard of the MV@Play proposal, and felt that much more information was needed before an informed vote could be taken, the meeting ended with a surprise motion that the committee should vote on the proposal then and there. That motion passed, and the actual vote then also passed the proposal.
To me, the atmosphere seemed way too emotional for the school committee to have taken a vote. For example, one member of the public basically stated that he didn’t care if he added to his preexisting cancer risk via plastic turf or infill. Many attendees seemed to support this emotional expression of commitment to the proposal. This didn’t sound sensible, or like a sound basis for decisionmaking. The comments of high school seniors were privileged over those of other attendees. The students’ views and immediate needs are important, but these young people do not carry any fiscal or planning responsibility. Yet it looked to me as though the girls’ comments and their vocal presence in the audience further heated the atmosphere, and became a factor in forcing the vote via the surprise motion.
This plan has been sprung on the Vineyard, and, apparently, some members of the school committee, by a small group. It is a positive that this group has forcefully brought the issue of long-term planning for playing fields to the fore, but this group does not have any mandate that I know of to monopolize the dialogue and force an up-down vote on their preferred plan, or to insist that their wide-ranging scenario for the high school is the only viable solution to how the MVRHS and the Island should plan for sports fields long-term going forward.
In short, as a result of the MV@Play proposal, the school committee is being pressured to make decisions on field facilities for the whole Island. This really is crazy.
The Island needs to step back from forced votes and hasty short-horizon decisions. Clearly, this is a big topic with many facets and policy implications. A committee should be formed whose membership represents all stakeholder groups and entities, which can investigate all potential scenarios to provide adequate acreage of high-quality, well-maintained, healthy playing fields for the Island. This process should start with a detailed inventory of the sports fields currently on the Vineyard, and their current use, and an effort to quantify and describe the needs of all users for sports fields. Perhaps the Martha’s Vineyard Commission is the organization best placed to oversee such a process. It requires broad community and professional study and input.
It is not fair to dump the responsibility for this long-term Islandwide planning for sports fields on the MVRHS School Committee.