After five years of planning — and an acrimonious turf war that played itself out in numerous public meetings — the Martha’s Vineyard Commission opened a public hearing on the regional high school’s new athletic complex on Thursday, using its fully-allotted three hours to dissect every detail of a controversial project that has generated widespread public interest.

Commissioners began the hearing by speaking metaphorically about how the process would be a marathon, not a sprint. The irony was that they were talking about a new track and field.

The $11 million project, approved by the school committee in 2019, includes five new or remodeled grass fields at the high school’s property off Sanderson and the Vineyard Haven-Edgartown roads, as well as the project’s crown jewel and most controversial touchpoint: a new synthetic turf track and field that would go at the front of the property. The $7 million first phase includes the turf track and field, a 4,800 square foot fieldhouse, new grandstands and a remodeled field south of the tennis courts.

The hearing on Thursday opened with weighty starter pistol speeches from commission chairman Joan Malkin and public hearing chairman Doug Sederholm laying out the ground rules for the hearing process. More than 150 members of the public attended the Zoom meeting Thursday night, signaling the project’s emotional tug for both supporters and opponents.

Mr. Sederholm even warned  project advocates or opponents not to corner or address commissioners in grocery stores or other public spaces, saying that the job of commissioners is to simply weigh the project’s benefits and detriments in public session. The project was referred to the commission by the Oak Bluffs planning board as a development of regional impact.

“This is an incredibly important and complicated project,” Ms. Malkin told commissioners and the public. “This hearing is not an opportunity to attack your opponents. It is not a popularity contest. We will not be swayed by how many people stand up and testify or how many letters are in favor or oppose. We are going to be persuaded when we hear about the issues, and the information, and the facts. And that is really what we want to hear from you.”

And then they were off.

The first two and a half hours included a presentation from Chris Huntress, whose firm, Huntress Associates, was hired by the school committee to design the project, as well as an hour-long presentation from MVC DRI coordinator Alex Elvin.

Mr. Elvin laid out the large-scale planning concerns of the project, including the benefits and detriments of the turf field from an environmental and usage perspective. While an independent study had determined that the high school could likely achieve its desired usage rate with only grass fields, it would require strict scheduling and maintenance. Although there are no facilities in the U.S. that currently recycle synthetic turf, the manufacturer has offered to set up a $50,000 escrow account for that purpose, Mr. Elvin said.

The lengthy back and forth over further details of the project included a summary of the heated history between turf and grass advocates.

School employees used the opportunity to provide their most in-depth, coordinated and impassioned pitch of the project yet, replete with powerpoints, emotional testimony and intricate schematics. High school principal Sara Dingledy, committee chairman and parent Kimberly Kirk, athletic director Mark McCarthy and high school maintenance director Mike Taus all spoke in favor of the proposal. In their view, one “workhorse” synthetic field would support the rehabilitation and remodel of the other five grass fields.

“The desire for this field is there, for those who depend on these facilities,” Mr. McCarthy said. “We ask each of you for your support for this project. This is what is best for our student athletes and our community as a whole.”

By the time public testimony began, there was less than half an hour left before the commission’s mandatory stop time of 10 p.m. A handful of turf field advocates spoke emotionally about their support for the proposal. Speakers were to pre-register to give testimony at the hearing, and were called in the order they had registered.

Longtime high school football coach Donald Herman was first out of the gate, giving a Powerpoint presentation on why he felt the turf field was a necessary and needed improvement over the current, deteriorated field. He cited safety, the quality of the turf, the need to improve student life for athletes at the high school, and, most crucially, the lack of goose droppings.

“If we have this, we could be the envy of the Cape, and possibly any high school facility in the state of Massachusetts,” Mr. Herman said.

Physical education teachers and coaches Lisa Knight and Ryan Kent also spoke passionately in favor of the plan, saying that they had off-Island teams refuse to play on the current fields. Terry Donahue, a leader of the turf-advocacy group MV@Play, said it was time to put aside differences and get the project to the finish line. And Mackenzie Condon, a high school track star who now runs at Harvard University, spoke emotionally about her own experiences getting to the finish line at the high school’s deteriorated track.

“I was the kid saved by goal setting,” Ms. Condon said. “I can promise you that every year that we go without turf, and without a respectable home track and facility, these students who desperately need athletics to teach them lessons will aim lower and lower.”

Opponents of the project would have to wait until the next public hearing, scheduled tentatively for Feb. 4.

“Everyone will have a chance to speak,” Mr. Sederholm said. “We’ll have as many hearings as we need for that.”