During conversations with the high school’s legal counsel regarding the feasibility study for the track and field, Superintendent Matt D’Andrea learned that the past practice of allocating excess and deficiency (E and D) funds without approval from Island towns isn’t the right way to go.
At Monday’s school committee meeting, D’Andrea reiterated his strong suggestion to go to the towns and get approval to use the $350,000 in E and D money for construction documents for the new track and field.
At the end of the meeting, the school committee voted 6-3 in favor of sending the decision to the towns.
Now the school has seven days to notify each Island town about their vote, and the towns have 45 days to call a special town meeting to vote on whether or not to allow the use of E and D funds for the construction documents.
Only four out of the six towns need to vote in favor of allocating the funds (two-thirds majority), and if the spending is approved, the proposal will be brought to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to determine if the project is environmentally responsible.
Committee member Janet Packer asked fellow members not to lose sight of the ultimate goal — to provide the necessary resources and avenues for students to thrive and succeed. “I am worried that this project could be delayed further,” Packer said. “Let’s not lose sight of the fact that we need construction documents; let’s let the towns make the decision.”
Committee member Robert Lionette suggested that there is no need to rush to a decision, and that there is ample opportunity to revisit a project of the same scale later on. In the meantime, he suggested using a grass field instead of a synthetic turf field in the plan, to diminish the chance the towns would vote it down.
“We could get a track that will cost less money and possibly not create so much controversy at town meeting,” Lionette said. “If we push this forward, and we have three towns vote against it, I don’t know where we are going to go.”
Committee member Amy Houghton insisted that if the school does not send the vote to the towns, there will be no opportunity for funding the project until next year.
But Lionette said he doesn’t think voting no on the present plan necessarily pushes the issue another year.
Committee chair Kris O’Brien urged members to let the process unfold as it will, instead of trying to find ways around it. “We always turn tail and run away from this, but it’s been five years,” O’Brien said. “We need this track, whether it’s synthetic turf or grass.”
Houghton reminded the room of just how much time and money has already been put into the process as it stands now.
“We hired a landscape expert with years of experience — this is what he [Chris Huntress] does,” Houghton said. “We based this decision off of what he recommended, and whether or not our fields can handle a certain amount of use.”
In Huntress’ report, it is stated that having all normal grass fields would not be sustainable because of the amount of daily use the surfaces see, and having one synthetic field would take some stress off the natural fields and make it feasible.
But Houghton said she shares Lionette’s concerns about the funds being blocked by the towns, and wondered about a plan B in case three towns vote nay.
“I am worried about us facing another long road,” Houghton said. “If we vote this today and it gets voted down by the towns, we should have another plan for May 11,” the day after the towns take a vote.
D’Andrea responded to Houghton, saying he is confident the plan recommended by Huntress is the best plan: “Plan B would be grass, but that would not be the best plan for our school and for our students.”
Assistant superintendent and committee member Richie Smith brought up the vision of the school to provide a quality playing surface for student athletes, and said he hopes the school will bring that vision forward. “Not only did we pay the professional for a specific plan, we followed a process that would create a vision for this group,” Smith said. “This is to provide, not what we want, but what is necessary to put varsity athletes on fields.”
Joe Mikos, president of Island Youth Lacrosse, said it is the responsibility of the committee to do what is best for students, and the track and field project is long overdue. “If you vote no, you are basically telling the other 15,000 people outside of this room that you are incapable of doing anything, because it’s been five years,” Mikos said. “And if you ever think for a hot second that this is funded with public money, come on, the arena just spent $3.2 million — how much of that do you think was taxpayer money?”
“Send it to the commission — can we get a track please?” Mikos said.
Terry Donahue, co-founder of MV@Play, said he doesn’t care what material the playing fields are anymore, he only wants there to be progress. “It’s been four years I’ve been walking this road,” Donahue said. “If you turn this down now, the track is dead.”
Donahue, previously an advocate for a synthetic turf field, told the committee, “If you go to the commission and they say the infield should be grass, I will work with you to raise the money to do a grass field.”
“So now it’s four years these kids have been left hanging because, as the adults, we choose not to take the responsibility,” Donahue said. “Vote it — if you don’t, it’s on you.”
School athletic director Mark McCarthy reminded the committee that construction documents, whether they are for a grass infield or a turf infield, will cost over $300,000. “We need to go to the towns either way,” McCarthy said.
“I started here in 2010, and immediately started telling this committee we need a new track,” McCarthy said. “This facility is for your children, and your kids have come to us and said they want it, so let’s do it.”