There is no shooting hoops in the Oak Bluffs elementary school gymnasium this week. While all the classrooms are dark and quiet at 50 Tradewinds Road, the gymasium is the center of the media world on the Vineyard. “I think we’re going to call this Martha’s File Center,” White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton said yesterday as he opened the first media briefing here. “I like it. A little warm.”
The gym was taken over on Sunday morning by the national media and will serve as a White House press center for the duration of President Obama’s Island vacation.
Preparations for the conversion started days earlier. A temporary partition divides the room in half; on one side of the gym, video editing equipment dominates the court. There are temporary tables set up for the major television network crews, aflicker with digital computer lights. A television monitor, its audio muted, is tuned to 24-hour television news. On Sunday morning there were pictures of Hurricane Bill spinning off the Maine coast. An electric fan runs constantly and pumps in cool air from the hall.
Thick black wires crisscross the floor and are held in place with black and gray duct tape. A mountain of shipping cases for camera and computer equipment is set to the side.
The other half of the gymnasium is devoted to a filing center for the reporters and photographers who carry their own laptops. Tables are set up, classroom style, to give the journalists a place to confer, eat meals and file stories about the presidential visit to the Vineyard. Electrical outlets are at the ready at every table.
An elevated theatrical stage used during the school year for programs serves as a backdrop for a ground-level podium for White House briefings. A blue curtain shields viewers from seeing the dark and empty gymnasium stage.
To the left of the curtains is the school cafeteria kitchen which last year served over 400 students. The kitchen staff are inside shuffling pots and pans; instead of serving youngsters, the kitchen crew is preparing meals for media representatives lined up for a meal, a snack or a cup of coffee.
Monday morning Mr. Burton briefed about 80 journalists. The place was a hubbub of activity, not unlike during the academic year, which begins in less than two weeks.