Chilmark Preschool project may use tennis court for access

The select board discouraged sending machinery through the nearby ballfield or Post Office lot.

Proposed construction access routes. The red route goes through a tennis court, and the yellow route goes behind the school. —Vineyard Land Surveying & Engine

Constructing the recently approved Chilmark Preschool may mean temporarily losing the middle tennis court at the town community center for eight months, from this fall through May 2025.

Chilmark Select Board members favored moving heavy machinery through that tennis court instead of through the nearby ballfield area, citing safety and disruption concerns for children. Select board chair Bill Rossi also recommended moving lighter machinery around the back of the Chilmark School.

Alicia Knight of the Friends of the Chilmark Preschool, along with Keith Fenner of Fenner Construction, discussed three potential access routes with the select board on Tuesday. These points were intended to be used at different times during the construction process.

An access point through the middle tennis court would allow heavy machinery to move directly from the community center to the build site. Fenner stated that this phase would last eight months, to complete the majority of the build. Construction is planned for this fall, and expected to be complete by September 2025.

Fenner said that restoration of the tennis court would start in April, to finish by May 1. At that point in the construction, he added, the project should be able to carry on with lighter vehicles moving along the back of the Chilmark School.

During construction access, the court will be protected with large mats, according to Knight and Fenner.

An access route through the tennis court would also involve the temporary removal of the nearby playground.

Knight said that the route through the tennis court would be the least disruptive to the Chilmark School campus.

Select board chair Bill Rossi favored moving heavy machinery through the tennis court. “The route I like is the tennis court,” Rossi said.

Another access point discussed was along the back of the school, which could accommodate lighter loads after the heavy machinery phase, possibly into summer 2025. “For lighter loads, we could create a road behind the school,” Knight said. “But that area won’t allow for larger trucks, because it’s too close to the property line, [and] the way that it’s hilly.”

A commenter at the meeting also proposed taking a tennis court out of commission for the entire year of construction, in order to complete the project.

“We’ll have the least amount of people angry at us,” Rossi replied.

Select board members discouraged access routes through the ballfield or the nearby Post Office parking lot.

Select board member Marie Larsen said that using the ballfield would be a safety concern, and that using the Post Office lot would require permission from that federal entity. “Leaving that open as an option is not OK with me … We’re not going through the field, and we’re not going through the Post Office in my opinion,” she said.

“Worst-case scenario is, to me, we have to figure out something to do with the kids in the summer,” said Larsen, “not that we come across the field … You’re going to need that field for the kids … You can’t suddenly open up the field and bring heavy equipment across with the kids there.”

A route through the ballfield would also require the select board’s permission. “That [route] is obviously problematic in summer, when the programs are going on, right? It might affect recess — I imagine it would,” said Rossi.

“The only option I don’t like is through the ballfield,” he said. “We just spent a lot of money on the field, restoring the grass there.”

Rossi said at the meeting that next steps for the project are to work with the town Community Preservation committee on organizing and scheduling the protection of the tennis court, as well as determining access for heavy equipment.

Chilmark voters approved a lease for the preschool project in late January, for under 4,500 square feet of town-owned land behind the Chilmark School.