Anna Popnikolova, Assistant Editor-in-chief

I will admit that, when I first heard about the Campus Wide Master Plan and the athletic complex, I was not the most positive advocate for the plan to pass. I had my reservations, and like much of the student population of Nantucket High School. I had my criticisms. Tennis courts? Instead of classrooms? Doesn’t the school have better things to be spending money on? I, like so many other kids, was frustrated by what seemed like the prioritizing of athletics over educational aspects of the school, upgrades only on athletic extracurricular activities and no others. And, absolutely, a lot of the concerns for the school are still relevant: teacher housing, the school not having enough space for the large incoming and current freshmen and sophomore classes, large student populations, and “homeless” teachers, with not enough classrooms. Teachers walking around with carts, classes with no textbooks. Of course, these still need to be addressed. They don’t just go away with time, and these issues will persist, unless they are handled and solved. 

But, after speaking with staff members, teachers, and people on the planning committee for the Campus Wide Master Plan, I will say that I could look logically at the reasoning behind the plan, and begin to gain an understanding for why these improvements are important to Nantucket Public Schools. Even the changes and developments on school campus which may increase classroom numbers and capacity—the prospective new science wing at NHS, for example—depend on work to be done across campus, like the movement of parking lots and new lots, as well as the few projects which are absolutely necessary. For example, the cinder track in the field is not code compliant, and the last track in Massachusetts that is made of the material. The track has become unideal for racing conditions for the cross country track team, and has even become unsafe, especially on rainier days, when the existing track can get slippery. This also goes for the football fields, which have become increasingly difficult for players to work on and can be dangerous when the weather is wet and the ground is muddy. 

With the changes that this plan proposes, we are saving around 40k in maintenance costs yearly, just from the natural grass fields—which require hours, irrigation, electricity and fertilizer. 

When I say that we are saving school money, I think many people are confused. And this aspect of the plan, while one of the most difficult to get across, is also one of the most important ones for the public to understand. This project, in total, costs 17 million dollars, or is projected to cost around that amount. The planning committee is asking the town for 16.4 million dollars to proceed with construction, and—if they are granted permission and funds from the town, to begin new improvements and planning for plans even further in the future. These 17 million dollars, however, aren’t coming from the school. Rumors were going around, and hearsay can be a confusing source of information: the money is not school budget money. The money that is projected to be used in this plan is money provided from the town, granted to the school committee to use in the athletic fields project. The money being spent is not money that could be going to students or other extracurriculars, it is town money, and if we receive the funds, they are directly for the athletics project. And, in turf alone, the projected 600k of saved money from 15 years of maintenance costs unspent is school money. So, in effect, this plan is spending town money and saving school money—which is beneficial for the school community in the long run. 

Still, there are concerns that the planning committee should be focusing their time and energy on   education improvements in the school and not athletic ones. NPS needs a new school, as it is overwhelmed by student populations and over capacity as this large “bubble” of student population passes through the school. Students are asking: why is the board working on this instead of planning a new school? Diane O’Neil, Director of Facilities and Grounds, explained: “Planning for the construction of a new school because we feel we need one today isn’t done by simply saying “we need a new school, let’s build one now”.  It takes years of planning and preparation, just as it has taken years of planning and preparation to get to this point with the Athletic Fields, Phase 9.  When the committee changed direction in 2014 in order to build a new school and an addition to CPS, many changes had to be in place before any construction could be considered.” With planning taking about five years in total to plan, propose and organize, and then construction taking longer after that, the new school would take a long time to be completed and functional. The “bubble” of student population is projected to have already passed through by then. 

On overcrowding, O’Neil said: “The current student population does not justify building a new school.  We are lower than our 2018 enrollment numbers.  Certain classes may seem larger than others when in fact they are less than they were three years ago.” She doesn’t see the high demand for space, and believes that the population—though seeming high—isn’t a critical issue. Besides, in order for any new building to even be thought about, space needs to be cleared up for said new building; as things move around and develop, space will open up for a new school.

Other aspects of the plan like, for example, the tennis courts, which have received much negative feedback from the community and NHS students in particular, have had less discussion. The courts set to be built in Backus Lane field, the land behind the skate park and across the street from Nantucket Intermediate School, are planned to facilitate the growing tennis team interest across NPS. Many students thought that the courts were unnecessary, or a waste of money, and didn’t cater to a large enough portion of the student population to justify their cost. O’Neil commented in response, claiming that, “Our tennis program is a robust and growing program with both Boys & Girls Varsity programs.  The tennis courts on campus will also serve the Community School in the summer months to run programs for younger students.  I don’t feel this is an unnecessary use of resources.  On the contrary, our student athletes are now practicing and playing on [Jetties] courts that are extremely outdated and could be considered dangerous.” 

After the educational assembly presentations in which Diane O’Neil and Gary Miller presented the master plan to groups of sophomore/freshman and junior/senior students, allowing them to ask questions about the plan and answering them to the best of their ability, I spoke with students and educators alike about their opinions on the plan. Sarah Swenson, a junior, touched on a few different aspects of concern, saying, “I honestly don’t think it is what the school should be asking for funding for at the moment. I understand that we are behind some standards in some areas, such as our track, and those improvements should be made. However, I think priority should be fixing the interior of the school, where all students are required to be, not the sports fields.”

Another student, junior Evan Keeler, voiced similar opinions, “One criticism that I can’t look past is the fact that the plans don’t quite seem to take into account the extrinsic need for some of these measures, such as the tennis courts, which I personally feel there is not nearly as much as the multipurpose fields…. I personally feel as though those funds should be used in a different way, such as to improve the condition of the school, teachers accommodations or general school commodities.” After the completion of Nantucket Intermediate School, many wondered why planning was not set into place for a new school or wing expansion of NHS, as was completed at Cyrus Pierce just a few years ago.

Benton Killion, sophomore, remarked that, “We expanded the middle school and built an intermediate school to ease the strain on the elementary school, so we should do the same for the high school. Yet, this money was allocated to new sports fields rather than classrooms.” He added, “It just feels like they’re telling us older kids don’t matter as much if they aren’t athletic.” 

A staff member at NPS who chose to remain anonymous in their remarks shared similar thoughts to those expressed by students: “Many things need to be addressed inside the building instead of spending millions on fields, sports are important but education should come first, we need more teachers and assistants as the number of students are increasing for the next four years.” 

Some have gone so far as to call the plan backwards, for seeming to prioritize athletics over educational facilities. 

But the feedback I’ve heard has not been all negative or critical. Students and teachers alike can acknowledge that there are aspects of the plan that are necessary, and others even see the plan as a positive improvement to school grounds, which should be looked at as an important addition to campus. Ms. Tessier, History Teacher at NHS, shared her views on the plan, “At first, I was pretty opposed to it; it simply felt out of touch. Why are athletics the priority when we need basic classrooms?” Her initial views, however, eventually grew more accepting of the idea. “After speaking to some colleagues, I came around to the idea. New schools are the priority, but the grounds need to come first, and it’s only logical to update the fields while we’re there.”

Keeler, in his interview, continued to say that, “When looked at in a pros and cons perspective, it makes perfect sense. It cuts the yearly upkeep cost for an initial payment that will eventually be overtaken by the total value saved from the less required upkeep.” 

I have been doing my own fair share of thinking and researching, and while there are still certainly lots of aspects that could be worked on, or in the very least, talked about more, I do think I’ve grown more open and accepting of the idea. This is a plan that has been in place for years, and this is only Part 9 of a much larger master plan to improve the NPS campus—this is not only beneficial for the sports community in the school and on island, but will be important in the big picture. Environmental impacts will be helpful in reducing water and electricity use, and significantly decreasing the amount of toxic runoff produced by fertilizer use. 

There are most definitely other issues to be discussed, and I’ll be learning and talking more with community members about further issues with the plans, which the community should be educated on. A possibility of PFAS contamination has been a large point of discussion and apprehension against the turf, worrying people across the island for the safety of citizens. More on this in Part II of this editorial article, to be published at a later date, focusing on the technicalities of the master plan and what the first steps of its execution will look like.

At this moment, anyone interested in researching the Campus Wide Master Plan can do so through the direct link in the npsk.org website, which contains helpful resources and presentations of the plan. I have hopes that the committee will be open with the public about their work and their plans, and open this up to community discussion. Everyone should be involved in these influential changes being made to the Nantucket community, and should know that their opinions and questions are valued, and considered important.

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