MV@Play postpones application to MVC

Delay will give supporters of grass fields more time to make their case.

MV@Play is delaying a meeting before the Martha's Vineyard Commission to give natural grass supporters more time to make their case.

The proposal to redo the high school athletic fields has again been put on hold. MV@Play, a group of parents who proposed raising money to update and expand the athletic fields with a combination of grass and synthetic turf, decided to postpone its application with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to give Vineyarders for Grass Fields, a local group promoting grass playing fields, an opportunity to vet its concept and work with the school committee and administration to determine its viability, according to a statement sent to The Times from David Wallis, president of MV@Play.

The meeting before the commission had been scheduled for May 11.

A year ago, MV@Play, organized by Mr. Wallis, Terry Donahue, and Robert “Spike” Smith, unveiled a privately funded $12 million project to create a centralized facility for use by the high school, youth programs, summer camps, and adult leagues. The group has been working with two representatives from Gale Associates, an engineering and consulting firm that specializes in athletic-facility planning and design.

The turf battle has been a contentious one. The Martha’s Vineyard High 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.

Since the project was first proposed, community members have expressed concerns with the synthetic turf material, and any corresponding health risks. Others had concerns about the feasibility of funding any necessary maintenance, upkeep, and replacement of the synthetic turf in the long term, and any potential impacts on the watershed.

The current proposal calls for a mix of synthetic turf and grass fields, with one synthetic turf field inside a new 400-meter track. This field would carry the majority of the high school sports load — field hockey, lacrosse, soccer, and football — to allow grass fields to recover or grow in.

“We came together for one purpose — to restore the track and deliver a useable field inside the track to the high school and its student athletes,” Mr. Wallis said in his statement. “We were never “turf” people, but came to an organic turf solution, in concert with the school committee, athletic department, and the superintendent’s office after consulting with experts, including experts in building and maintaining grass fields.”

Vineyarders for Grass Fields proposal, Mr. Wallis said, while currently short of necessary specifics, could be “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for Vineyard children and the community. Given the cost of the proposal, it deserves the time to be fully vetted, he said.

Matt D’Andrea, superintendent of schools, and Richie Smith, assistant superintendent of schools, support MV@Play’s decision to postpone their application. In a statement sent to The Times, they said that the group continues to act for the betterment of the schools and the Island community, and their postponement with the MVC reflects that support.

“They have been transparent about being open to suggestions to improve their proposal for the benefit of the Island’s youth,” Mr. D’Andrea and Mr. Smith said.

In February, the MVC reviewed the first phase 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 of either artificial turf or natural grass.

In addition to postponing the MVC application, MV@Play will provide Vineyarders for Grass Fields the engineering specifications for the fields, representing “more than $100,000 in savings towards pursuing their goal,” Mr. Wallis said.

MV@Play said they will step aside to allow the Vineyarders for Grass Fields proposal to take shape and for the public review period to begin. They continue to believe, however, that the conditions of the athletic fields are “unacceptable,” where track and field athletes, along with their families and supporters, have to travel off-Island for every meet.

“The urgency here is real: a new track must be in place for the spring 2018 season,” Mr. Wallis said.

Updated May 3 at 2:15 pm to reflect a statement from the superintendent of Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools.