The Nobadeer Farm Road playing fields complex will be expanded and get some much-needed maintenance in the near future. Article 10, a $3.8 million appropriation for the creation of a new natural grass playing field as well as the renovation of two existing grass fields, was approved during Tuesday's Special Town Meeting in overwhelming fashion by a vote of 759-134.
Michael Cozort, the island’s former superintendent of schools and a current member of the Parks & Recreation Commission, said he was not surprised to see the community support this article the second time around after it was surprisingly rejected at the Annual Town Meeting in May.
“The community did once again what it always does, which is step up when it is something for the kids,” he said. “And in this case, it is not just for kids because it benefits all ages.”
The money will also be used to provide renovations for parking and other site enhancements.
Cozort said securing this funding was particularly important in light of the proposed upgrades to Nantucket High School’s athletic complex never coming to fruition. That project was a $17.5 million proposal put on hold due to community concerns over the presence of PFAS - the so-called “forever chemical” - in the proposed turf fields that were part of the plan.
“I think it's even more important that we develop more grass fields all over the island because they're all going to be overused pretty soon,” Cozort said. “I'm delighted and appreciative. As I said, the island is doing once again what it's always done.”
Concerns about PFAS were what prompted Matthew Peel to call the article. He said as a father of children currently growing up on the island, he fully supports renovations and the keeping up of the playing fields. However, Peel wanted reassurances that the article did not include turf being added as part of any additions or renovations.
“I think we are all aware of the PFAS problem and just want to make sure we are keeping up on that and not adding to the problem as well,” Peel said.
Charlie Polachi, the town’s Park & Recreation manager, addressed the concern and confirmed that no turf would be added and there would be no renovations made to the existing turf field on the complex. He said it would be all-natural grass being renovated and/or added.
Cozort addressed the community’s concern about the past maintenance of the fields during the Special Town Meeting, which is what prompted the rejection of the article in May. He said while there have been issues in the past, that is not a concern anymore ever since the addition of Polachi as manager.
“I would urge anybody to go out and look at the fields because they are in great shape right now,” Cozort said.
Parks & Recreation Commission member Nikki Drew also spoke highly of the job Polachi has done – describing the work done in the past eight months as “amazing.” She urged people to vote yes because she believes the island needs more sports-oriented events.
“Especially with kids coming out of school and not necessarily going to college but staying here and doing the trades, they need something to do,” she said. “I am talking not just about the younger kids, but men’s soccer leagues. When I first came here in the early 1990s, we had great soccer contests between all different kinds of businesses. I would love to see that happen again. We need more community stuff to happen.”
Cozort said there is an “extreme need” for more playing fields as the island sees a large uptick in children and residents interested in participating in sports.
“We all know how quickly Nantucket has grown. We consequently have more children playing more sports than ever before,” Cozort said while reading from a letter he submitted to the Current last week. “Last year the youth lacrosse had approximately 150 participants, soccer had 450, and adult soccer over 100 so undoubtedly, there will be more next year. This places a heavy burden on our grass fields and creates a challenge to find field space. It is very clear to anyone involved with our youth in the community, and let’s not forget the impact the pandemic has had on our children, they need greater access to playing spaces. If we don’t create those spaces, where might they turn? To what might they devote their time?”
Cozort told the Current after the meeting that the numbers he told the community before the vote don’t even include the school’s numbers, which are rising.
“The school is now using the Nobadeer Fields more than they ever have, which is a wonderful thing,” he said. “That relationship (between the school and Parks & Rec) is better than it has ever been. So this not only benefits those numbers of youth and adult league athletes, but also school athletes. We need to give kids options and to give them something constructive."
The path that Article 10 took to approval was unusual. After voters rejected it during the Annual Town Meeting, a grassroots advocacy campaign led to voters approving the spending at the ballot weeks later. But since the funding required both a ballot vote and approval at Town Meeting, Article 10 was added to the warrant for Tuesday's Special Town Meeting.