The Martha’s Vineyard Commission voted 10 to 6 to approve the regional high school’s sports field project in a dramatic meeting Thursday night, ending a long-running and often acrimonious debate over artificial turf fields that began a while ago. half a decade.
“We were created to protect the unique values of this place, which is exactly why we are here,” Commissioner Doug Sederholm said at the end of a three-hour deliberation held over Zoom. “Overall, I think the synthetic turf pitch is probably the way to go.”
The approval comes with 11 conditions, but a condition to require all-grass fields that ultimately failed became a turning point later in the meeting.
Under review by the commission as a Development for Regional Impact (DRI), the first phase of the approximately $11 million project to renovate the high school’s athletic fields has undergone a marathon of public hearings which began in January.
The current project began in 2016 and became difficult after separate groups came up with dueling plans for the sports facility – one with grass fields, one with turf.
The high school committee finally opted for a complete upgrade of the sports complex which includes a multi-purpose synthetic turf pitch, five natural grass pitches, a new 400-meter track, a 700-seat grandstand, a 5,000-foot pitch squares, and concessions and toilets.
The plan was designed by Huntress Associates of Andover. Vineyard Schools Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said he plans to raise private funds to fund the project. The first phase will cost around $7 million.
The commission’s comprehensive review saw extensive testimony and some 345 letters, including 20 from island environmental groups opposed to the land plan. Scientists clashed over the prevalence of polysyllabic chemicals in turf infill, and parents weighed the environmental and aesthetic costs of plastic against the prospect of a state-of-the-art student sports facility.
On Thursday evening, the commissioners faced similar questions as they weighed the pros and cons of the project.
In an added twist, a condition drafted by Commissioner Ben Robinson that would have required all-grass fields for the project became a voting flag, as Chair Joan Malkin gave each commissioner a chance to speak.
“We have a chance to establish a policy,” Robinson said. “We have to give ourselves the opportunity to improve the student-athlete experience with grass because plastic is such a problem and because we have this alternative. We have to make that choice, towards all grass.
Other commissioners agreed, acknowledging the benefits of artificial turf but concluding that the environmental impact was too great.
“I thought about it a lot,” Commissioner Linda Sibley said. “The advantage of synthetic pitch is clearly that you have a predictable and reliable surface at all times. The detriment is clearly environmental. environment, and that we could use this as an educational opportunity for children, telling them about the benefits they get, that the whole island gets and the whole world gets from minimizing plastic.
But as the condition gained momentum with some commissioners, others opposed it, either expressing wholehearted approval for the synthetic field or expressing procedural concerns about the proposed amendment. .
“There is a time for politics and that time is when you go through a public process,” Commissioner Brian Packish said. “I don’t think now is the right time to attempt to make a statement about creating policy and, pun intended, moving the goalposts for these candidates.”
Commissioner Jim Vercruysse stated his case simply. “The candidate made it clear that he couldn’t achieve his goal without that area. And for me, if there’s a kid who wouldn’t be there because of the weather or his abilities, somehow on the other, it’s a win,” he said.
After more than an hour of discussion and comments from the 16 commissioners, the vote on the condition failed in an 8-8 tie.
The commissioners then proceeded to vote on the entire project.
Commission President Joan Malkin was among the board members who voted for the weed’s condition and stood firm. Commissioner Jeff Agnoli, also a proponent of all-grass, also held firm.
“As a commission, we must not be timid in the face of a refusal. Many parts of the plan are already in place, we don’t have to worry about how many years will pass,” said Agnoli. “I would like us to be, faced with such an important decision, brave enough to take the right one.”
But this time, the vote split differently. Commissioner Christina Brown and Ms Sibley had voted yes to the all-grass condition, but in the end they voted for the whole scheme with the grass pitch, putting a final stamp on a process and a scheme which had been anything but for nearly half a decade.
“I just want to say that I ended up voting yes because I think overall the need for this project for kids is too great for me to vote no,” Ms Sibley said in her closing remarks. “Most of you don’t know this, but I used to be high school committee chair and when I was there, we were in the middle of a financial crisis and someone suggested that a way to save money money would cut sports. And I said, literally over my dead body.
The 11 conditions include one requiring the high school to provide information on the disposal of artificial turning terrain at the end of its life if it cannot be recycled, another requiring a plan to track and report injuries on the grass field, and others concerning the lighting. , landscaping and building materials for the country house.
The final roll call vote was as follows: Clarence (Trip) Barnes 3rd, Ernie Thomas, Jim Vercruysse, Brian Packish, Christina Brown, Fred Hancock, Doug Sederholm, Josh Goldstein, Linda Sibley and Ted Rosbeck voted yes. Commissioners Jeff Agnoli, Jay Grossman, Christine Todd, Kathy Newman, Ben Robinson and Joan Malkin voted no.