The Chilmark selectmen met with members of two opposing community groups on Tuesday to discuss a controversial proposal to install artificial turf fields at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

The selectmen drew heat in recent weeks for not inviting members of both groups — MV@Play and Vineyarders for Grass Fields — to a June 21 meeting when the selectmen referred the project to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for review.

MV@Play has proposed a three-phase project to modernize the high school sports facilities, starting with the track and field. The group recently signed a license agreement with the high school to move forward with phase one, which would include new bleachers and lighting, repairs to the track, and an artificial turf field.

Group member Matt Poole wrote to the selectmen shortly after the June 21 vote, expressing his disappointment in the process and asking them to adopt a policy “to include participation from both sides of a given issue, not simply one side, wherever practical.”

Tuesday’s meeting was an effort to level the playing field, so to speak, although the selectmen stood by their decision and did not adopt the recommended policy.

About 20 people attended the meeting, including MV@Play founder David Wallis and high school superintendent Matt D’Andrea — both of whom advocated for moving the project forward — and members of Vineyarders for Grass Fields, who had met with selectmen at the June 21 meeting and are pressing for more research and review.

Taking issue with some of the arguments at the earlier meeting, MV@Play member Robert (Spike) Smith said replacing an artificial field as required every eight to 10 years would cost $450,000, not the $1 million cited before. He said the long-term costs of grass and artificial turf would be about the same, since artificial turf would cost more to install but could handle more use.

“You are getting three fields for one, basically,” Mr. Smith said. “That is the only reason why turf was chosen.”

Despite its disappointment at not being invited to the earlier meeting, MV@Play has since welcomed the MVC referral. But reservations appeared to linger on Tuesday.

Mr. Smith argued that a cross-town referral should have happened only after a building permit was pulled in Oak Bluffs, and that the school committee should have responsibility over the project. He added that MV@Play’s engineers have said the work on the track and field would not need a building permit, although Oak Bluffs building inspector Mark Barbadoro disagrees.

Mr. D’Andrea also had reservations over the referral. “I don’t want this to get hung up in a process that’s going to derail the opportunity that we have in front of us,” he said. He noted that the high school alone would be unable to pay for the project. Most of the funding would come from private donations, Mr. Smith said, but some would also come from community preservation funds that Island towns appropriated for repairs to the track last year. Chilmark planning board member Janet Widener questioned whether that would be an appropriate use of the money, but Mr. Smith said the $300,000 would go toward repairing the track surface only.

Phases two and three of the project would leave 65 per cent of the 41 acres of athletic fields at the high school as natural grass, Mr. Poole said in his letter.

Mr. Wallis said he shared people’s concerns about the potential health risks associated with artificial turf, but he added that Gale Associates, which has drafted a master plan for the playing fields, is required by contract to state any safety issues.

“There is no way we are going to put down something that is going to be of health concern to our kids and Island,” he said.

Rebekah Thomson, a member of Vineyarders for Grass Fields, disagreed with Mr. Smith that much of the opposition to artificial turf was based on outdated information. She said manufacturers had gone on record this year saying their product contained lead as a color fixative. “I think it’s safe to say none of us are health experts,” Ms. Thomson said. “Let’s slow down and look at all the possibilities and then make a decision.”

Susan Desmarais noted questions about safety and permitting and supported the selectmen’s decision to send the project to the MVC. “It just seems to make sense to me to put it in their capable hands,” she said.

The MVC will decide whether to review the project as a development of regional impact (DRI), but it was unclear Tuesday whether the project would qualify under the commission’s guidelines. Joan Malkin, who is Chilmark’s representative to the commission, said her own concerns included the potential for increased runoff and traffic at the site. But she couldn’t predict how the MVC would respond to the referral.

In the end, all three selectmen stood by the decision to refer the project to the MVC.