MVC approves high school field project

Commissioners reject condition to require all-grass fields; synthetic field prevails.

The Martha's Vineyard Commission continued its deliberations on a written decision pertaining to a new sports complex at MVRHS.

After reviewing thousands of pages of testimony and holding a total of 13 meetings, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) approved Phase 1 of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) field project with one synthetic playing field Thursday night.

In a vote of 10-6 at the commission’s meeting, the commissioners supported the project with conditions.

The chief vote of the night, to require the high school to implement only natural grass as part of the proposed plan, failed, with commissioners voting 8-8 — a vote that demonstrates the divide in the community over the project.

For Islanders who have followed the MVC’s review of the first phase of the proposed project, the most significant stumbling block for some has been the potential environmental impacts of having a synthetic turf playing field as the centerpiece of the plan.

Along with the synthetic game field, the plan also includes a 400-meter track, and one natural grass field, along with other components such as reconfigured parking, a grandstand and pressbox, and a field house. 

The first phase of the project is estimated to cost about $7.7 million, based on initial cost projections laid out in the high school’s application. MVRHS says the construction costs for the project will be privately funded, while the turf manufacturer, Tencate Grass, will handle maintenance for the first two years, then hand that responsibility over to the high school.

MVC executive director Adam Turner thanked the entire MVC staff, and said this proposal is the most complex matter he has dealt with since he came to the commission.

Commission chair Joan Malkin said she is “100 percent confident” that all Islanders hold the well-being and safety of students at the center of their goals for the project. But whatever the commission’s decision, she said, “some will feel delighted, and some will feel alienated.”

Commissioners ran through the changes and additions offered by the high school, along with the conditions vetted and suggested by the Land Use Planning Committee.

Commissioners unanimously approved conditions and offers related to all elements of Phase 1 besides the synthetic turf field, which were voted on and accepted unanimously in a separate vote. 

But the most important vote of the night had to do with a condition that would require all future fields at the high school to be natural grass, which was denied by commissioners 8 to 8. 

By denying this condition, the offers and conditions related to the synthetic field are moot.

Commissioner Ben Robinson said he is concerned about an offer related to a plastic reduction plan for the high school, wondering how far the school could flesh out a plan with only three months stipulated in the offer. He suggested adding a condition that the school could come back to the commission and request an additional three months to establish a plan.

In a separate vote, the condition was to require the high school to provide an analysis for end-of-life recycling, or alternative steps for replacement if recycling isn’t available, to the MVC prior to the start of construction.

Robinson, who proposed the all-grass condition, said the proposed synthetic field is a “clear departure” from previous practice for the high school, and represents a local and global problem on multiple levels. 

He said now is the chance for the MVC to set policy that will inform future decisionmaking surrounding plastic use. 

“All the recent science I have been reading has grounded me that policy and decisions by governments are the only way we can make meaningful change. Global pollution through plastics is an immense challenge,” Robinson said,adding that the easiest time to reduce plastics is when there is an acceptable alternative, like grass.

Commissioner Fred Hancock said he wants to give more credit to the high school and Huntress Associates’ conscious decision to choose synthetic turf for the game field, and stressed that sometimes it’s necessary to use plastic.

“I just think if we accept the idea that plastic is always bad, would we then not accept a hip replacement or a knee replacement because they are plastic? What is the best material at the moment to achieve what we want to achieve?” he wondered.

He noted that at first, he was against the idea of bringing a synthetic field to the Island, but after hearing from professionals, he has determined that the risks to human health are “very minuscule.”

“This is the best answer to the playing field situation, and allows the maximum number of students to have a quality sports experience at the high school,” he said. 

Commissioner Doug Sederholm went through the various elements of student and public safety related to a synthetic field, saying that it is not “unduly detrimental” to player safety, and could very possibly benefit the welfare of student athletes by reducing ground-impact injuries. 

He added that having a synthetic field would extend the playing season, especially for spring sports that normally turn the existing, dilapidated grass fields to mud.

“Will it be better than a natural grass field for the student athletic experience? I think it probably will be, and it will without a doubt extend the seasons. There are a lot of these fields all over New England because we have crappy weather here in the spring and fall,” Sederholm said.

After hearing from both independent grass and synthetic turf consultants, Sederholm said there is virtually no risk to human health from contact with the field, and although the science surrounding the impacts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is still inconclusive, the levels identified in the synthetic turf aren’t cause for concern.

Commissioner Jeff Agnoli said that although plastic is everywhere, he doesn’t think the athletic campus at the high school is an appropriate application for it. He worried about the impact the field would have on groundwater, saying, “We are talking about two and a half acres of plastic. Of course it sheds; why else would it need to be replaced? I think this is an enormous opportunity for the Island to be a leader.”

The commission’s decision now needs written approval, which has been tentatively set for July 15. Once the commission gives final written approval, the decision heads to the Oak Bluffs town clerk to be recorded.

Commission decisions can be appealed by anyone within 20 business days after they are received by the town clerk of the respective town. Commission DRI appeals are brought directly to the superior court clerk. If the MVC’s decision is appealed to the Superior Court, construction cannot begin until that matter has been resolved. 


  1. Thank you to the commissioners who tried to safeguard our island from synthetic turf. To the commissioners who voted for plastic, you’ve lost all of my future votes.

    • Our high school track (which we won’t be able to run on next year due to the surface being worn down to the point where it is unsafe) is made of synthetic material, is it not? That track has been used for years without any cancer caused, and hopefully the new one will be used for years to come as long as this project is passed!

      • Zach– Has anyone said this will cause cancer in 15 years ?
        You make the point that the current high school track which is synthetic is unsafe, and then urge us to put down more synthetic stuff ?
        I have been on this planet for nearly 70 years, and have never heard of a high school track being so unsafe that it cannot be used.
        I am really scratching my head about your logic here.

        • Unsafe due to its current condition Don, you ignored parts or twisted his response. The truth is there is no more danger to humans from this field as there is from standing under a tent or sleeping in a tent, or wearing sneakers.

          • Zeke–My response to Zach was that I did not think it caused any kind of cancer, and was questioning why he brought that up. I had not seen any comments to that affect. And I certainly never brought any concerns about cancer up. The issue is about safety from the point of injuries. Zach playing the cancer card seems like a red herring.

        • Don- You’ve never heard of a track being so unsafe that it couldn’t be used? Let’s look back at 2018 when our high school track team couldn’t have any home meets due to the unsafe surface of the track… (which was resurfaced but has been deemed as unsafe for competition as of this spring) ( ). To elaborate on what I was saying in my previous comment, I am arguing that the synthetic material on the track is completely safe in that it does not cause negative health effects in the way you believe it to, but it is unsafe in the way that it is an uneven surface due to it being worn down and having no drainage whatsoever (similar to the current grass playing fields that our island’s school has). Hopefully that clears any confusion up for you, Don.

          • Actually Zach–I believed your comment my point was that the synthetic track became unusable.
            I should have clarified that they never had to shut down a NATURAL track.
            Sorry for the confusion.
            Having said that, the article that you linked to states that the synthetic track repairs in 2018 would cost $148 k and last 3 years. So we’re due for another repair about now– Likely about 200 k now.. That seems expensive.
            It seems the synthetic track that is likely used less than 40 weeks a year cost of about $1250 a week( 2018 dollars) to just have it, as well as some presumed maintenance cost . It is so unsafe after 3 years that it is unusable– presumably it is somewhat unsafe after 2 years. What happens to the synthetic materials that will have to be removed to facilitate a new track every 3 years? Is that cost included in the 148 k number ? Why is that preferable to what humans have been running on for the last 4 million years?
            I am asking these question with respect. I will admit I do not know much about a track of this nature. I respectfully ask that you point out the benefits of the synthetic track.
            Thank you

      • Zack, where did all the synthetic (toxic) material go from this “worn down” track you referred to?
        The same place the “worn down” synthetic (toxic) turf will be at the end of its usable life span.
        To suggest “it is completely safe and does not cause negative health effects” is to very selectively look at the science.
        I would suggest you give a thought to the surrounding environment and contemplate where all this “worn down” material goes.
        Other than that, congratulations on your records.

        • Don- please provide one example of a “NATURAL track” as you have referred to that is used by a high school for competition, because in my four years of high school competition not once have I competed on a track that isn’t made of synthetic material. A natural track isn’t a fair playing surface.

        • James- Thank you for the congratulations. I hate to break it to you though, because unless you’re writing this from a dirt hut and using a stone tablet, wearing animal skins and sandals made out of palm reeds, you’re surrounded by synthetic (“toxic”) items. The shedded material from the track is going exactly where all of the other synthetic materials you use in your daily life are going. The use of synthetic materials in our every day lives is unavoidable at this point, so why should our athletics program be the sacrificial lamb being used to prove some alternate agenda? I suggest you give a thought to the current reality we live in and contemplate how blocking this project will actually effect the environment in the big picture.

  2. Thank you to the commissioners who voted for our kids and were not blinded by science. I live in the real world of today and not some utopian dream like environment. As was pointed out sometimes plastic is good. I am sure most of you drive in one everyday. To the commissioners who voted against our children you have lost all of my respect. Now if we figure out how to get rid of all the toxic batteries from these coal fired cars.

    • Bob– your comment about “coal fired cars” demonstrates the depth of your ignorance on most subjects.
      I wonder where you think these “coal fired cars” are getting the “coal fired electricity”. Just in case you have been living in the 60’s for the last 50 years, I have a news flash for you.
      Generating electricity by burning coal is quickly fading away— There are 3– count them –three– coal fired plants in New England. Two in new Hampshire and one in Ct. One of the 2 in N,H is currently being shut down. There are none in New York.
      So my guess is that you know this, because you seem to be a fairly smart guy, but you continue to say stuff like this because the “conservative ” M,O now is to lie about anything as long as it promotes the conservative agenda.
      You also likely know that the Lithium in the “toxic” batteries is 99% recyclable, and will wind up in the batteries of the cars your grandchildren drive.
      Where’s that toxic plastic turf going when we are done with it ?

  3. Here is the key quote in this article…”we are talking about two and a half acres of plastic. Of course it sheds, why else would it need to be replaced?” When plastic sheds, where does it go? It turns into microplastics and pollutes our waterways. Hey, it even ends up in our bodies, as we eat the fish that eat the microplastics. I am so disappointed that Marthas Vineyard, which should be leading the way, has made a choice that is bad for the environment, human health, the ocean and the climate. One last thing, PFAS which are in this turf, are called “forever chemicals.” Why? Because they are known to not break down in the environment…ever. A quote from Imagine It!…” PFAS move around the environment easily, can enter the air we breathe and accumulate in our bodies.” MVC what are you doing?

    • Ms David if we took all the plastic out of your home there would be virtually nothing left. No roof no windows no carpets no floors, no sewage pipes no wiring no wall board no tiles, maybe not even any siding. . No chairs no furniture no tv or ipad or iphone. No refrigerator trays.Maybe the 2 by 4’s would be all that is standing.

      • Andrew– Because we have lots of plastic items in our society, you think that is good reason to cover our fields with it ?
        Is anyone saying that we should have no plastic in our lives ?
        People drown you know– therefore we should ban all forms of swimming as well as indoor plumbing.
        Your logic on this issue is about as rational as your logic on most issues.

        • Mr Keller is loathe to let my posts go unindicted while ignoring the Brennan admonition to ”play nice”. This coming from man who worships a pasta colander while questioning my logic.

          • ENGELMAN, making fun of what others worship can be a slippery slope. For instance, there are people who believe Trump was chosen by a god they worship– These people admit they prayed to a god for Trump to be elected, and then went on to believe that their prayers were answered by a god who gave us a traitor to the Constitution– “the man elected to be President of the United [was] a malignant narcissit…a pathological liar, a blustering ignoramous, vile, vengeful…” When debating, all ridiculous beliefs are all fair game when someone opens the door as you have.

            George asked us to be civil, which includes no name-calling of other commenters. Niceness and civility are separate words with separate meanings. Your grasp of nuance and the English language is poor. Also, I always know which comments you won’t let pass without “indictment”, but that’s what online pubic comment features are about. You accuse others of doing what you do. That’s hypocrisy.

            For your information, ENGELMAN:

            Niceness versus civility
            “… For decades, I had the vaguest idea of the differences between niceness and civility, but watching people rage at the idea we should be civil has helped me see how very different niceness and civility are, and why people who value niceness may hate civility, and why some, like me, may come to think that niceness is a refuge for hypocrites.” ~W. Shetterly
            “Civility is the bearing or attitude of responsible and engaged citizenship in a democracy. Civility, when practiced in a healthy democracy, doesn’t bury real issues — it can expose exploitation or oppression.”

            Also, whining about other commenters is neither nice nor civil.

          • Andrew– Interesting that you say to “play nice” while you mock my religious beliefs.
            Just for clarification, neither I , or any other Pastafarians “worship” a colander any more than a Jewish person “worships” a yarmulke or a Muslim woman “worships” a hijab.
            May I remind you, Andrew, of the terms and conditions of the MV time concerning user generated content. –That’s us :
            ” section. 3.1 (c) Use respectful language. Like any community, the online conversation flourishes only when our Members feel welcome and safe. You agree not to use language that abuses or discriminates on the basis of race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual preference, age, region, disability, etc. Hate speech of any kind is grounds for immediate and permanent suspension of access to all or part of the Service.”
            Note the point about religion.. Your comment above about my religious beliefs is inaccurate, offensive and clearly intended to discredit me.
            The term “play nice” does not appear in this listing of terms and conditions.
            And you have the audacity to complain about me questioning your logic ? I am doing exactly what this forum is about.
            You are the one who is not “playing nice”
            Shame on you …

          • Ms Mendez-Diez just can’t stop talking about Donald Trump!

            Everything leads back to Trump! Including the plastic vs. natural debate on Martha’s Vineyard.

            I honestly don’t know what to make of this obsession.

  4. Laurie
    You need to open your eyes and your mind. Stone Age comments are typical on many “issues” here on the Vineyard. While maintaining our island character is important doing what’s right, especially for our school aged children’s equally high priority. Synthetic turf athletic surfaces have been around for a very long time and gone through many iterations. They provide uniform level fields and they drain rain water very quickly allowing more play time and less event cancellations……….something our kids cherish. While injuries (like turf toe) do occur they are far less serious than natural grass which often develop “pot holes” which cause frequent ankle sprains and dislocations.Synthetics require much less daily/seasonal maintenance and turf “grass” does not die off in the winter, again allowing even more practice and play time for our youth. I personally have played multiple competitive sports on a variety of artificial surfaces and have never sustained a serious or seen a turf related one. I have also seen dozens and dozens of New England High Schools who have artificial fields, some for 15 years or more. Their kids seem to love to play on them !
    The MVC made the right call on this one.

    • Eddie– I have to say that I am curious as to how the laws of physics are being changed by this product.
      You claim that they “drain water very quickly”. Where does that water go ?
      I am asking a serious question here.
      This plastic surface is covering a large flat area. It is in the middle of a larger flat area.
      When it rains on a real field, it soaks into the ground, and replenishes the ground water.
      The cycle is unbroken.
      So lets assume this piece of plastic is porous– So water goes through the holes in the plastic and then encounters the ground.
      How can a layer of plastic over the ground enhance the grounds’ ability to absorb water more quickly ?
      If the plastic is not porous , the water will just run off into the adjacent fields and they will have even more water to absorb, causing flooding back on the plastic field.
      is there something I am missing here ?
      And by the way, just because i am thinking about ground water, do we really want our sole source aquifer to be fed by water that is filtered through a plastic sieve ?
      Think about this.. We have a thunderstorm on a hot summer day– lets say a half inch of water is sitting in our plastic petri dish.. The sun comes out and bakes it while it drains into the aquifer.. Does anyone think there will be no leaching and no contamination of the ground water ?
      I am only addressing one narrow point about water drainage and potential effects on our drinking water.

      • As I said there are many iterations of synthetic turf but in a general sense those that are properly applied to playing fields have strong base layers cultivated underneath the “carpet” surface layer. The top surface is often “seeded” with impervious shredded tire(or other similar materials) morsels or treated sand which facilitates rain and moisture down to the base layer and greatly assists in drying the surface material. As stated before this allows more on field playing time and less competitive game cancellations. There is no credible scientific evidence that artificial turf fields are harmful to participants or the environment in general.
        Think about our paved roads and parking lots where the lowest and crudest form of asphaltine scale is used.
        What is the environmental impact of that age old common utilization ? Kind of an inconvenient truth for all of us to think about .
        MVRS is not the only district that has had the grass v synthetic debate.There are literally thousands of established artificial fields which have gone through the same public scrutiny that we have…………
        What makes us so much more knowledgeable or special ?

      • Mr Keller, all this research has been done and is on paper. This has been going on since you were much younger then 70. You’ve missed all the fun, nothing you have said has not been researched already

    • Here is a perfect breakdown of the situation:
      Laurie’s comment was about environmental issues. (1 side of the debate)
      Eddie’s comment was about sport issues. (side 2 of the debate)

      In this case, the MVC has decided that sport issues are more important than environmental issues. 🤦

      • Perhaps you are thinking about the MVC’s decision incorrectly.
        May be the MVC strongly considered the student and children using the synthetic fields in much the same way that Schools select teachers and learning materials. Best options available for best student learning enhancement experience……………You think ?

      • Perfect summary. Will the children (or their children) playing on these fields today live in a cleaner/healthier world than their grandparents? With decisions like this happening all over the country (>8k fields nationally as cited in this Atlantic piece from 2017 – so probably more now: ).

        For a community that cherishes our pristine beaches, trails and farmland, this decision is so disappointing and shortsighted. Appeal.

    • High school athletes are not the only constituents of the MVC.
      The science journal Nature reported back in the spring that manmade matierials now literally *outweigh* natural materials on the surface of planet Earth.

      Where do we call a halt to the progressive transformation of more and more of the Earth into biologically dead zones? Who thinks we can actually continue like this? Reducing the ability of our Island, and planet Earth, to support healthy lives? Including the lives of high school athletes after they have gotten their coveted professional slots and then, a decade or so later, have retired from professional sports and have children of their own who must also survive on planet Earth?

      How many of our high school athletes will be willing to hold bake sales to pay for getting rid of the old plastic turf they dreamed of when they were young and the fields were new and they thought the Earth and its gifts and its carrying capacity were infinite.

  5. Just a reminder that we don’t allow name-calling in this forum. Be civil or your comments will be deleted.

    • …but you were fine to allow irrelevant and accusatory comments here for years, by obviously concealed identities, before finally changing the policy.
      The MV Times allowed a lot of damage to a lot of persons by this waffling.
      And now you ask us to be nice?

  6. The round about will never work ambulances from Up Island will never make it to the hospital…,blah,..blah, blah……

  7. You must love being the gate keeper of comments and have some affiliation towards this Don character. You are getting as bad as Facebook and the rest as far as only allowing the opinions you like being posted.

  8. Ms Diez you cite ”tolerance for political outsiders” in your sympathy for Sacco Vanzetti–two guilty anarchists. Yet you show no such leeway for me also a political outsider and I committed no crimes Just sayin.

    • ENGELMAN, here you go again, making up baloney. Where have I “cited tolerance for political outsiders” or ever even mentioned Sacco and Vanzetti? You’re confusion is obvious, but your lies are tiresome. Just cut it out.

  9. How absurd. Many towns across America can’t afford to either build or replace their fields. Here we argue on which surface is better.

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