Discussion over turf at MVRHS rejoined at MVC forum

First of three-phase plan to redo athletic fields thrashed over at public meeting.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission Land Use Planning Committee examined the details of the first phase of the proposed refurbishment of the MVRHS athletic fields. The proposed three-phase plan has been approved by the school committee. — Stacey Rupolo

Updated, Thursday, 4:25 pm*

Members of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) examined the details of the first phase of the proposed refurbishment of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) athletic fields Monday evening in a public forum at the Oak Bluffs library.

The proposed three-phase plan, which has been approved by the MVRHS school committee, includes reconstructing and expanding the existing track and field facility; installing a 90,000-square-foot synthetic turf multisport field; installing a four-foot-high chainlink fence around the site; constructing bleachers with a seating capacity of approximately 500; and installing lighting.

The turf battle has been a contentious one. The MVRHS school committee has held two public meetings on the plan, each of which drew 250 to 300 residents. To date, the MVC has received more than 90 public comments on the plan, including one threatening a lawsuit if artificial turf is installed.

But discussion Monday night among the 50 or so attendees was civil. It focused on phase one of the proposed three-phase plan — replacing the playing surface of the track and field infield with artificial turf composed of 90 percent coconut and 10 percent cork, along with installing lights, 500 bleacher seats, and a four-foot chainlink fence around the venue.

Phases two and three, in the development stages, would refurbish other MVRHS playing fields, including the football field, with a new field (either artificial turf or natural grass).*

On hand to answer MVC questions were assistant Martha’s Vineyard schools superintendent Richie Smith, Sean Murphy of the McCarron, Murphy, Vukota law firm representing MVRHS, MVC development of regional impact (DRI) coordinator Paul Foley, and MVC executive director Adam Turner.

MVC commissioners had questions about artificial turf and its environmental effects, how the track and field venue would be made available for rental or use by community groups at the discretion of the high school, and how much the surrounding area would be affected by the increased use of the facility.

Commissioners asked for projections of traffic and parking in the event of multiple simultaneous events, such as an MV Sharks game and a track event in the athletic complex.

Commission member Ben Robinson of Tisbury noted that area traffic is also affected by use of the YMCA and the soon-to-be-rebuilt Ice Arena, along with tenants including Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, all located on high school–owned land across the street from MVRHS.

Commission member Trip Barnes of Tisbury asked that a poll be taken of the MVRHS high school students on the proposal, and that the results be brought to the public hearing.

“Ask them how they feel about it,” he said. “They are the ones who will be using it, playing on it.“

Land use planning committee (LUPC) chairman Linda Sibley of West Tisbury asked whether similar artificial turf facilities are located nearby, and suggested a site visit might be in order. Watertown and several Rhode Island schools were mentioned as possibilities.The LUPC tentatively scheduled a public hearing for April 6 at 7 pm, at a site to be determined.

“I am sure that meeting will be held in a much larger room than this,” Ms. Sibley said.

The long-running playing fields discussion began in 2015, when a group of parents proposed raising money to replace the MVRHS track surface. As they learned more from the school, the plan became a three-phase effort. The group, now called MV@Play, proffered the three-part plan to the MVRHS school committee, which approved it in May 2016, and has authorized MV@Play as its permitting agent on a license which expires on Dec. 31, 2017.

Details of the plan and public comment are available at mvcommission.org (DRI 352-M4).

*This story as published originally incorrectly reported that future plans for the high school football field included use of artificial turf on its playing surface. In fact, there have been no proposals about the composition of the playing surface to date in the drafts of plans submitted and approved by the MVRHS school committee.