The Nantucket Soccer Club wants to see a new indoor recreational facility built on Nantucket. The Select Board wants to see such a facility constructed as well. The island’s Hispanic community is also in favor.
Everyone, it seems, is on board with the concept. But now comes the hard part: who spearheads the project? How big should it be? Who pays for it? And where is the right location?
The Select Board on Wednesday discussed a request from the Nantucket Soccer Club to initiate a feasibility study for an “indoor community athletic field house.” The club had just received a $30,000 grant from the Nantucket Golf Club in support of the study and was asking for the town to spearhead the process.
While the Select Board came out strongly in favor of the concept as well as the need for such a facility on Nantucket - and even potentially donating the land - they made it clear that it was their belief the project should be spearheaded by private individuals and organizations rather than the town.
“What we’re hearing now is a lot of the reasons why It’s hard to do this through the government,” Select Board member Matt Fee said after listening to the proponents and his fellow elected officials. “There’s a lot of red tape, it’s two or three times more expensive. It cost us over $2 million to build a shed out at the fields that now needs $600,000 to have heat and other stuff put on the inside. If it cost us $2 million to build a two-bay shed, I cannot imagine what it will cost the town to build this. I’m in favor of this but the first step is where is it going to go?
“I don’t think it’s going to be spearheaded from the government,” Fee added. “I think maybe if Park and Rec puts together a work group and Park and Rec agrees it is a good location and then the work group works on that location If it comes to us, you will be sorely disappointed. We will run this around - and we’ll try not to - but we can’t help ourselves. We’ll run this around for two or three years and probably not get anywhere because the town has so many other things that are high priority.”
Momentum for an indoor recreational facility has been gaining momentum for several months, spearheaded by the members of the Nantucket Soccer Club and other community members. Last summer they successfully lobbied the Select Board to include language recommending such a facility in the town’s open space and recreation master plan, and recently announced the gift from the Nantucket Golf Club.
Proponents for an indoor recreational facility, including Nantucket Soccer Club’s Justin Quinn, have not only emphasized the potential health and wellness aspects of such a facility but also the possible mental health benefits for island youth who don’t have many options during the long, cold winter months.
“I think it’s really important,” Quinn told the Select Board Wednesday night. “Kicking the can down the road is irresponsible and reckless and then we’re just going to wait for the next tragedy to strike us.”
Others at the meeting also hit on that theme, stating the facility could serve as a community gathering place - one that’s not centered around alcohol - during a time of year when most people are stuck inside their homes.
“Health and wellness isn’t necessarily soccer or a gym - it’s also people being able to get together and have no stigma,” said Nantucket Parks and Recreation Commission member Nikki Drew. “We’ve lost our sense of community that we used to have. We have such a diverse community now, and I think everyone needs to be included in this.”
Cory Partida, who works for both the Nantucket Land Bank and the Nantucket Boys & Girls Club, spoke during the meeting on the Hispanic community’s enthusiasm for an indoor recreational facility along with Wilmer Ortiz, the president of the island’s adult soccer league.
“This facility will be used,” Partida said. “The Hispanic community, which largely makes up the soccer leagues on Nantucket, will be there. We want to support it. I can’t tell you how excited people are about the idea, just the idea, that we might have a separate indoor facility. The whole summer people were asking me: ‘When is this happening?’... I really do hope this goes through. I can promise you, we in the Hispanic community will help push this forward with what we can.”
After more than an hour of discussion regarding how best to proceed - and whether the grant money should be spent on a formal feasibility study or to gather input from the community - the Select Board ultimately voted unanimously to send the matter Parks and Recreation Commission to gather stakeholders together and further evaluate the proposal.
Part of that evaluation will be settling on the scope of the indoor facility - the size, the amenities and activities it will feature, and the groups it is intended to serve. The Select Board heard all manner of suggestions - that it include services for youth, adults, and the elderly, as well as behavioral health services, a track, and even perhaps a pool - and chair Dawn Hill Holdgate repeatedly emphasized that it should not duplicate what already exists.
“There’s a partnership to be had here because I think we all would support it,” Hill Holdgate said. “But we need to understand the basis - the most need - and not completely duplicate stuff that’s already happening. We do have a senior center that’s too small, we do have the Boys & Girls Club, which has a double-sized basketball gym. There are many other needs and many other things that I would put on the top of my wish list but I want to serve the most people in a way that we can actually afford to build it and run it long-term and do the most good.”
One possible location for an indoor recreation facility identified by proponents is at the Nobadeer Farm Road playing fields, where the southernmost soccer field has already been identified as a potential site. But as Parks and Recreation Department manager Charlie Polachi told the Select Board on Wednesday, given the current demands for playing fields and their usage, that location couldn’t be converted until likely 2030 at the earliest.
Select Board vice chair Brooke Mohr similarly offered her support, but cautioned proponents about the “speed of government” while suggesting the initiative should ultimately be led by the private sector.
“A bunch of steps are needed before we get to what will the town contribute in terms of land,” Mohr said. “Municipal program or municipal initiative or community initiative? I think a lot of folks don’t understand the complexity of the municipal process and that sometimes it can make it more difficult to get from here to there rather than doing it in the private sector.”
While some have hoped that the Nantucket Land Bank - with one pillar of its mission being recreation - would be able to participate and possibly supply the land for such a venture, one complicating factor could be a policy adopted by the elected Land Bank Commission last October.
Shortly after the Select Board included the indoor recreation facility in its open space plan, the Land Bank Commission voted in October to adopt a “policy for indoor recreation use requests.” The policy states that “indoor recreation or uses ancillary to indoor recreation are not appropriate uses for real property owned or managed by the Land Bank…At its essence, indoor recreation is activity conducted in a built environment, which is contrary to that stated priority.”
The next Parks and Recreation Commission meeting when the indoor recreation facility will be discussed is set for February 15.