Numbers flawed in turf vs. grass debate


To the Editor:

Unsafe playing conditions. Usage. Rural character. Plastic pollution. Climate change. Youth athletics. All critical issues. But the discussion surrounding the MVRHS playing fields has been reduced to a numbers game.

The MVRHS’ most recent expert, Chris Huntress, is recommending plastic fields, saying the numbers justify it. We think his numbers are flawed.

To begin with, Mr. Huntress’ estimates for what it would cost to install and maintain natural grass fields are considerably more than the Field Fund just spent. We spent less than $200,000 putting in two grass fields with a new well and state-of-the-art irrigation system in Oak Bluffs. Using local labor. Even with public procurement, why would that cost be $274,702 for one field when the MVRHS is just down the road?

Yes, we agree that the MVRHS would require more upkeep, but certainly not $28,500 per year per field. We have spent less than $10,000 per field annually. Our expert, Jerad Minnick, who has been working with us for two years, has managed fields for pro teams in the NFL, MLS, and MLB,  and has evaluated the fields at the MVRHS including soil testing (Mr. Huntress admitted he has not evaluated the fields other than by walking on them), and estimates that the MVRHS would need to spend $20,000 at most per field per annum — and less than that with Field Fund support.

Mr. Huntress says plastic fields are a bargain. Really? He said ONE plastic field will cost at minimum $1,060,000, will need to be replaced in eight years for another $500,000, and needs $7,000 more a year in maintenance. But Mr. Huntress argues that the cost per hour is cheaper because you can use it more. Well, that’s like arguing you will drive more if you buy a Humvee, and it will justify the extra expense.

Additionally, if we look at the numbers Mr. Huntress passed out at the Jan. 23 MVHRS committee meeting, they conflict with his earlier usage numbers. When Mr. Huntress presented in December, he said that a grass field could be used 680 to 820 hours a year. Now he has grass being used only 425 hours a year. What changed? What are the real numbers?

What is real is that the Field Fund has invested $400,000 in the fields and equipment for the Island, and it shows. West Tisbury School fields, as well as Veterans Park and others, were able to support more usage last year thanks to the positive partnership between their staff and the Field Fund.

But there are bigger questions to debate and discuss that have been lost in this digression of numbers: What are our values as a community? Are we really not going to consider the environmental impacts of installing a superheated, two-acre plastic field, particularly in a Zone 2 wellhead protection area? Even when well-respected environmental organizations such as the Vineyard Conservation Society and Mass Audubon have written to say that they are concerned about this choice? Why, when students around the Island have worked to ban the use of plastics — banning plastic straws, plastic bags, helium balloons, and now working to ban plastic bottles — is the high school going in the opposite direction? One plastic carpet contains the equivalent of 46 million straws or 3.2 million plastic bags per field! Why undo all this important work?

As taxpayers, what do we want to spend our money on? Where are we getting the

$1,060,000 for this one plastic field, and what do we have to give up to get it? How will we pay for the $500,000 replacement cost? What is the school’s plan for upgrading its grass fields? Are taxpayers really going to vote to fund these unknowns and big numbers — particularly when we taxpayers are also looking at an estimated $100 million price tag for the high school, which is in critical disrepair? And perhaps the best current question is, Why did the school chose to spend $350,000 for the design of this track project with their E and D (Excess and Deficiency) funds, instead of asking voters to weigh in? What about transparency?

The Vineyard is not Anywhere, USA. We are the Island that tried to secede from Massachusetts. We told Big Mac, “No. You can’t come here.” Our kids go sailing on the Shenandoah for class trips. Thanks to Island Grown, we have gardens at every school and locally grown food in our school lunches. Our children have farms, woods, and beaches to run and play on. As a small community, we value looking out for each other, and honor our land and waters. And we value sports, and excel at them! But does valuing sports mean we have to put our kids on plastic? We don’t think so.

We maintain that grass is the safest and most fiscally and environmentally responsible choice for our community.


Mollie Doyle, Dardanella Slavin, Rebekah Thomson

The Field Fund


  1. Let’s settle the debate by ending outdoor sports teams altogether and spend the money on education. Kids can still compete by creating math teams, debate teams and still enjoy basketball, hockey, swimming and tennis teams.

  2. It’s time for the Field Fund to go away. You used bogus numbers to back up your claim that the recent experts numbers were bogus! Let’s see the facts. Two paid expert consultant engineering firms recommended that at least one synthetic field is needed, yet you three claim they don’t know what they are talking about. But you do? Your field at the oak bluffs school wouldn’t survive one season of mini kickers! You had an opportunity to put your money where your mouth was and spend the 20+ million dollars and build it all in grass and you didn’t do it. Because you would never build and then maintain a competitive athletic surface in grass once you knew the water and chemicals it needed. So please get out of the way and let them build it, or better yet step up and help with the 5 remaining grass fields. As for BS’s idea. wait till they realize what basketball is played on, and that tennis is not played on grass here, or swimming in a pool with chlorine!!

  3. Oh, for Pete’s sake. I like grass as much as the next person, but you folks are so unreasonable you’re like the PETA of grass fields. Learn to give a little and you’ll get 90% of what you want, and everyone will be better off.

    Turf has very particular advantages which make it an excellent COMPLEMENT to grass fields–not a replacement, but a co-use alternative. We need a small number (maybe only two) turf fields at the high school. Those turf fields can then absorb a huge amount of use, and the vast majority of the *most damaging* use, off of the grass fields. Then the remaining grass fields will be healthier (good), cheaper to maintain (good), and in better condition (good.)

    Most obviously, you cannot damage a turf field by playing on it when it is wet, muddy (not that it gets muddy), snowy, etc. It is also unusually resistant to short-term neglect: Yes, you have to maintain a turf field, but you can (if necessary) ignore it for a month and nothing bad will happen, unlike a grass field. And finally, there’s no dispute that it is simply flatter, which is nice both for the rolling-ball sports (soccer, field hockey) and the avoidance of twisted ankles.

    Let’s say you have two fields and two fields only.

    Each one could cover football (a great sport to be played on turf because it’s so hard on the grass) in the fall, and also soccer games (which are rarely played at the same time as football), with weekend use by the various Island soccer or Pop Warner programs. In the spring it can cover lacrosse, again with weekend use by soccer. In the summer it can take most of the summer-soccer load, at the time when the other grass fields are most vulnerable.

    The other can have similar use, but without any football posts.

    Everyone benefits. All of the varsity soccer and football games would be played on turf. Most of the soccer travel team games would be played on turf. This means there are fewer rain cancellations to “protect fields” and the remaining grass fields are in better shape.

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