In response to the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s submission of phase one of a major track and field project, Oak Bluffs planning board chair Ewell Hopkins said the plan has some gaps that need to be filled in.
After years of debate, the school is moving forward with its plan to install five new grass playing fields, with one synthetic turf infield, in order to accommodate the amount of usage the athletic campus sees. Some on the Island have raised concerns over the synthetic field, and whether it is environmentally responsible and in the best interest of student athletes.
One major issue Hopkins touched on in his response to the MVRHS master plan that lays out the multi-phase project was a specification that requires end-of-life recycling, “including chain of custody certification for all products.”
“The ability to recycle an entire synthetic turf field, at little to no cost to the owner, is now possible,” the master plan report states. “One such recycling facility is presently being constructed in Pennsylvania by ReMatch Turf Recycling, Inc., and is expected to be fully operational by 2019.”
But Hopkins said he cannot confirm any recycling facilities in Pennsylvania or the rest of the U.S. “With the Island actively attempting to minimize its waste stream, there must be a clear plan for the removal of acres of plastic carpeting every five to 10 years,” Hopkins said.
The Times spoke with Dennis Andersen, owner of ReMatch Turf Recycling, who confirmed that there is currently no active turf recycling facility in the Northeast or the rest of America.
“No current certified process for recycling these synthetic materials exists in America,” Andersen said. He said ReMatch’s facility in Denmark is the only Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) certified turf recycling plant that does what it promises.
“Some other companies will say they are recycling, but will send the materials straight to the landfill,” Andersen said. “We have a proven method of completely recycling each element of synthetic fields.”
Andersen said he is willing to transport the MVRHS synthetic field to Denmark to have it recycled at the end of its useful life, or he can have it stored until an anticipated recycling plant is fully operational in America.
Some companies will buy old synthetic turf materials to be used for paintball lots, batting cages, dog kennels, and landscaping, although those materials are still destined for the landfill.
But Andersen said there is currently no market for the hand-me-down infill or synthetic turf grass, and that “there is a huge stockpile in every single state in America.”
When asked about Hopkins’ reaction to the project submission and Andersen’s comment that no recycling facility exists in the U.S., school officials referred questions to Chris Huntress of Huntress Associates, the landscape designer chosen for the project.
Huntress said that at the time he was corresponding with ReMatch, the Danish recycling company was planning on constructing a facility in Pennsylvania posthaste.
But those plans changed, and Huntress is suggesting the school use a woven turf product that eliminates the backing material, which contains polyurethane (which is difficult to recycle).
Huntress said he wrote to Greenfields Turf and ACT Global (both synthetic turf manufacturers) to request that if they are chosen for the project, they provide an outline of their own recycling process. “Should they sign on, they would make that promise to the people of Martha’s Vineyard,” Huntress said.
Huntress said he cannot think of another instance of a specification for a project like this that includes chain of custody for the entirety of the field’s useful life, as well as its end-of-life recycling process. “You really do, through this whole process, provide an example for the rest of the country for how to be responsible for a sustainable turf field throughout its entire life, and beyond,” Huntress said.
He also asked the prospective providers of the infill and the shock pad, Brock USA, if they would be willing to take the chain of custody into their own hands. “They were thrilled,” Huntress said.
Other questions were raised by Hopkins about the athletic field redesign in relation to the overall $100 million total rebuild project for the high school.
“The MVRHS master feasibility study being indefinitely placed on hold, according to news reports, makes the needs of the rest of the school campus unclear,” Hopkins said.
He also said an increase in traffic volume along Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road because of increased field usage, and a loss of parking spaces in order to accommodate campus improvements, both necessitate updated traffic and transportation studies.
Hopkins also wondered whether the application for the project is financially viable, and whether private funding will be enough to eliminate the need for external funding sources.
If the school track and field project is entirely privately funded, Hopkins wondered whether the need-based Massachusetts School Building Authority grant would be out of reach.
Apart from the immediate cost of the project, Hopkins asked what the forecast cost for maintenance and disposal will be when factoring in specialized equipment, and possibly specialized training for staff, or hiring of new staff.
According to Hopkins, the field usage numbers that originally justified the implementation of a synthetic field in the plan are “biased at best,” and that overall lifetime and usage costs have been omitted from the submission.
“Where is the budget for all additional costs associated with this project, including maintenance and replacement costs? What assurance is there that these figures into perpetuity will not be passed along to school athletes in the form of higher registration fees, usage fees, and/or potentially a pay-to-play model for school sports?” Hopkins asked.