Updated Feb. 4
During a tense exchange between West Tisbury finance committee member Doug Ruskin and school officials, Ruskin suggested that the process of moving forward the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School athletic campus project has been “disingenuous.”
“I am more than disappointed,” Ruskin said during the West Tisbury finance committee meeting with school officials.
He highlighted the warrant article put forth to towns in the spring of 2019 to authorize the use of $350,000 of excess and deficiency (E and D) funds to acquire construction documents for the project, with a disclosure statement that read, “Approved funds can only be used for the stated purpose.”
“We have since learned that those funds were used to design a significantly more expensive sports complex,” Ruskin said.
His comments come as the Martha’s Vineyard Commission is set to hold its second public hearing on the project on Thursday, Feb. 4, at 7 pm.
Ruskin said that while the MVRHS committee has full control of the use of funds for the high school, the process to acquire the E and D funds, which requires majority approval from Island towns, “seemed disingenuous and, in fact, misled the towns.”
Superintendent Matt D’Andrea voiced his frustration with Ruskin’s claims, and said he thinks “it’s disingenuous of [Ruskin] to say we are trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes.”
He continued to say that with such a major track and field project, other elements are going to be necessary to include in the construction plan, such as bleachers, lights, walkways, and other pieces that allow Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.
D’Andrea said it’s wrong of Ruskin to accuse the high school of being vague in its warrant article, when some articles on the recent West Tisbury warrant “are extremely vague.”
“You have $80,000 for repairs to the dump,” D’Andrea said. “This is not about the warrant article, this is about the track. Let’s call it for what it is, you don’t want this to happen. Just come out and say it, don’t try to derail it at every turn.”
Additionally, Ruskin said, the project was promoted with the understanding that the capital cost would be paid by private funders, but he wondered why those funders haven’t been identified publicly.
“Why the mystery? Wouldn’t a funder be proud to be sponsoring such a project?” he asked.
Assistant Superintendent Richie Smith said the school is honoring individuals who would like to support this project, but want to remain anonymous. “Once we have permitting, those donors would possibly move toward making themselves public,” Smith said.
In looking at plans for phase one of the proposal, Ruskin said a number of existing grass fields will be rendered unusable until phase two is completed. He asked if private fundraising for phase two will be secured before phase one construction begins.
“If not, there is a real risk that the towns could be on the hook for phase two costs in order to minimize the period those additional fields are unavailable,” Ruskin said.
Additionally, Ruskin asked why the high school engaged an independent environmental consultant when the Martha’s Vineyard Commission has hired its own.
“Without questioning her qualifications as others have, why would you spend taxpayer money for such a consultant when the MVC has already engaged an independent consultant at taxpayer expense?” he asked.
But MVRHS committee chair Kimberly Kirk clarified that the consultant was independently hired by Vineyard Athletics (not the school committee), only to review the data produced by Horsley Witten, the environmental consulting firm retained by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to review the environmental aspects of the project.
The consultant, Dr. Laura Green, is a toxicologist with extensive experience in analytical chemistry, risk assessment, and regulatory policy. In response to Ruskin questioning Green’s qualifications, Kirk noted Green holds a B.A. with honors from the Department of Chemistry at Wellesley College, and a Ph.D. from the former Department of Nutrition and Food Science (currently the Department of Biological Engineering) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Additionally, Kirk stressed that no taxpayer dollars were spent on the consultant.
Updated to include comments from Kimberly Kirk. — Ed.