Updated Feb. 7
In another sign of de-escalation in the ongoing turf field debate, the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) School Committee is pulling back on its plans to build a synthetic turf field.
In a 5-3 vote on Monday, the committee voted to withdraw its applications for a demolition permit for the field with the Oak Bluffs building department, as well as an application with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC).
Those in support of the measure say it was a good-faith gesture to the rest of the Island, as the committee looks to undertake a major school building project.
“To have two competing positions on the same project would be very detrimental to any boards supporting anything you’re going to propose, or if we’re going to move forward,” committee member Robert Lionette said.
Committee member Skipper Manter favored moving forward with a “clean slate.”
Not everyone on the committee was pleased with the decision. Committee members Kris O’Brien, Louis Paciello, and Kathryn Shertzer voted against the measure.
“You’re about to piss off a lot of people,” Paciello said. “So if you want to rescind it and start all over again, God bless you. I’m leaving in two months, and just tell the fundraisers not to call.”
Paciello noted that it took many years and expenses for the project to get to this stage. “It was the most scrutinized project on Martha’s Vineyard,” he said.
Shertzer said she would prefer the applications expire while the committee moves in another direction, rather than pulling the application. She noted the amount of work and money spent on the project already. The school committee recently received a decisive legal verdict that allowed the project to move forward, despite the rejection from the Oak Bluffs planning board. The Dover Amendment gives special protections to educational institutions.
Committee member Mike Watts, who made the motion, said prior to the vote that “all previous conditions disappear” if the motion were approved, including a condition that the project needs to be privately funded.
When asked about next steps on Tuesday, Watts told The Times the project will have to go through the MVC process all over again, so the timeline and actual design remains uncertain at this time. However, this time the project will also be looked at in tandem with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) process, which will bring major renovations or a new high school. Watts said right now the project was a “blank slate.”
Schools Superintendent Richie Smith told The Times it was time to “consider everything,” so pulling the applications was a step to remove possible limiting factors. With the school building project also a factor with the MSBA process, the motion lets the committee to start from scratch and push a vision forward.
A major part of that visioning will include the need for a new track, which Smith said had been repaired and maintained numerous times now. School officials had previously been told by a builder at Cape and Island Tennis & Track that it had around two years of usability remaining.
“We can’t wait … years for a track,” Smith said, adding that he hopes the new applications will generate excitement for better athletic fields, and be embraced by the community.
Also on Monday, the school committee rescinded a motion made last week in support of placing a nonbinding ballot question asking voters whether they prefer a grass or synthetic turf field surface. The motion to rescind the request passed 6–2.
Manter and committee member Roxanne Ackerman voted against the measure.
The committee also passed a motion, 7–1, to open up the entire high school campus — including the field — to the purview of the MVRHS building committee. The committee is tasked with pushing forward the MSBA process.
Paciello was the sole dissenting vote, noting that the MSBA grant would not reimburse athletic field expenses.
“We’re considering it because we’re taking off all limitations for the MSBA process to move forward in any way that it could possibly work, even if that means building a 17-story high school,” Shertzer said. “We’re putting it all on the table.”
Michael Owen from CHA Consulting, the owner’s project management firm hired for the school building project, added that while the athletic field replacement won’t be reimbursed by the MSBA process, the state does reimburse for a master plan and vision — which includes various educational program components like athletics.
These decisions followed a lengthy conversation among school officials regarding next steps of the MSBA process. Currently, the MSBA is working with local officials on finding a designer. Building committee chair Dion Alley said this part is expected to be completed by April.
“You’re about to embark on what I believe to be one of the most challenging and exciting trips the community will take as a whole,” Owen said, adding that the more transparency and community involvement are implemented early on, they will improve success. The school will also need to be creative yet strategic about the changes that will be brought forward, Owen said. “We’re going to think outside of the box,” he said.
O’Brien said it felt like “stars were aligning” for the MSBA process. “This is the chance to look at stuff in a very different way,” she said about the visioning process.
Additionally, school officials hope the process of acquiring the lasting changes for the high school building will be the impetus toward pulling the Vineyard community back together after the vitriolic athletic field surface process.
“You have a chance to heal a community,” building committee chair Alley said.
Updated with a correction to Louis Paciello’s comment.