Grass beats turf on high school fields

The high school committee rescinded its license with MV@Play.

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

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) Committee meeting last Thursday featured the first reading of a new policy in which the school promises to maintain a grass campus instead of utilizing artificial turf for at least the next decade.

If the policy is successful in a second and third reading, it will provide a solution to the yearlong debate about the future of the school athletic fields that began when nonprofit MV@Play proposed replacing the current grass fields with artificial turf in the spring of 2016. The turf proposal sparked the creation of the Field Fund, an effort to raise money to maintain a green campus on MVRHS’ outdoor athletic grounds.

The committee met with the Field Fund for over two hours on Thursday to continue its discussion of the agreement to commit to grass. The committee resolved several issues in an executive session prior to the public session, including the decision to assume responsibility for the cleanup of any environmental issues that may arise, to allow the Field Fund to own the results of environmental testing, and to perform a title search to ascertain that the school owns the grounds that the Field Fund will support to maintain. Although the committee is also pro-grass, they were at first undecided on the issue of rescinding the license agreement with MV@Play, as requested by the Field Fund.

Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said, “We certainly understand why [the Field Fund] would have these requests, but we’ve been advised by our attorneys that this is not something that can legally be put in a licensing agreement.”

Committee member Skip Manter suggested that MVRHS adopt a policy separate from both the contract with the Field Fund and the licensing agreement with MV@Play in order to move the agreement forward. Committee members largely agreed and worked with the Field Fund to word the following policy:
“Given the financial commitment and good faith of the Field Fund, the high school will work cooperatively with the Field Fund to maintain grass fields for a period of at least 10 years.”

The Field Fund was, at first, concerned about whether the committee and community would honor a commitment to the policy after Thursday’s meeting.

“If you make this policy today, what holds your feet to the fire and says that you won’t rescind it tomorrow?” asked Field Fund member Mollie Doyle.

Mr. Manter replied, “In the over 10 years that I’ve been here, I think I can say that I’ve never seen a policy be rescinded. Amended, maybe, or updated, but in this particular case … I can’t envision any reason why this committee would rescind this, because of all of the good things that are attached to it. We’d be going backwards.”

Mr. D’Andrea supported Mr. Manter’s statement. “We entertained the idea of MV@Play and going to turf because they came forward with a plan to develop a brand-new track for us with a turf infield, and we said, ‘Giddy up, that’s great. We would love it because we don’t have the money to do our track.’ If [the Field Fund puts] this work in and raises the money, we recognize that. Nobody wants to turn around and say, See you later, we’re going to turf now. There was no intention to do that,” he said.

Committee vice chairman Kris O’Brien added, “For people who are out of this room, there is the opportunity to vote [the policy] down at the second and third meeting.”

Before voting, members of both organizations voiced some concerns about what the final policy would entail.

Assistant Superintendent Richie Smith raised the financial issue of maintaining a grass playing field. “If you are going to commit [to grass], then you also have to commit the money to keep it maintained. You’re going to have sports people out there … They’re OK to play on grass, they’re OK to play on synthetic. They just want to make sure they’re playing on a good surface.”

Ms. Doyle replied that the Field Fund has a $2 million endowment with the Permanent Endowment, and part of those funds will create a groundskeeping position at the high school to maintain the grass. “We can’t just come in and fix it and say goodbye. We are committed to this … It needs daily maintenance, and we understand that,” she said.

The committee and fund also confronted the issue of which fields the policy would cover.

Ms. O’Brien cited the uncertainty of funding, and said, “If we’re just talking about the track and field, that’s fine. If we’re talking about all the fields out there, that’s a lot of green space.”

The Field Fund, however, hoped the school would commit entirely to grass with the money and sitework they will provide.

Committee chairman Robert Lionette pointed out that the high school already has a grass campus in place.

“We want to make this policy so that it works,” Mr. Lionette said. “We are committing to a grass campus. That’s what we have right now; we do it every day. We may be underfunded, but we are not negligent. [With this policy] we are committing for a period of time to a grass campus.“

Mr. Lionel also reintroduced the issue of rescinding the licensing agreement with MV@Play. “It’s a contradictory act. On the one hand, we say we’re gonna keep a licensing agreement for turf, and at the same time we’re gonna have a policy saying we’re committing to grass. If we’re truly gonna commit to it, then let’s do it.”

The committee voted unanimously to both adopt the grass field policy and to rescind the school’s license with MV@Play.

The second reading of the policy, at which anyone can share their concerns or support, will be held on Wednesday, August 16, at 5 pm.

In other business, the committee also voted in favor of transferring $46,481 to create a salary including insurance for a one-year-only ESP position that would be shared by the Special Education department and the English Language Learning department. The vote was 5 to 1, with a nay cast by Mr. Manter.