Light up Central Middle School field to help after school sports, BOE decides
Updated 5:56 pm, Friday, October 6, 2017
GREENWICH — The Board of Education voted Thursday to authorize Superintendent of Schools Jill Gildea to get temporary lights for Central Middle School’s playing field and the necessary town permissions to install them.
“We have an urgent situation at hand,” said Peter Sherr, chair of Board of Education. “Time is of the essence.”
Now that Greenwich High School starts — and ends — later, athletic teams are beginning to run into reduced playing time because the sun is setting earlier as winter approaches.
Board members said they have been discussing lighting options for playing fields in two executive school board sessions, deciding that temporary lights at Central Middle would help expand sports playing time.
The vote Thursday was taken despite objections from several board members, including Democrats Debbie Appelbaum and Laura Erickson, who said they were worried the decision was based on debate at a work session of the Board of Education without opportunity for public comment.
“I know that there were issues in the past associated with events and things happening at Central Middle School,” Appelbaum said. “The local neighbors had some concerns. I would not want them to feel that we were doing something that precluded their input, which is not our intention.”
Other board members said there would be opportunity for public comment in the future because it will take time for the project to get its several needed municipal approvals.
“Given the situation, we need this to move forward,” said Democrat BOE member Gaetane Francis. “This does not require us to put the lights up; it just allows that to start time process.”
Six school board members voted in favor of the temporary lights. Erickson voted against the motion. Appelbaum abstained.
“The intention would be to use the lights on one field at CMS this fall - if approvals and permits are received — from October to December 8 at the latest, depending on state championship status,” said Superintendent of Schools Jill Gildea in a letter sent to parents and neighbors of the schools Friday. “Practices are scheduled from 3:45 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday. Details on use in the spring would be provided at a later date.”
GHS Football coach John Marinelli said so far his 180 student athletes have had enough daylight after school to play without lights.
“But it’s a concern for all field and outdoor sports that there won’t be enough light for safe and efficient practices as we get later and deeper into the season,” he said. “I have only spoken with my staff and what we can do to be creative with practice and manage what we can control. I would imagine many other sports are in a similar position as us.”
Greenwich High School is only permitted to use the lights in Cardinal Stadium in 10 athletic games — including state playoffs — and six practices a year, because of a 2002 ruling by the Planning and Zoning Commission upheld by Stamford Superior Court in 2003.
The rulings were issued after the school sought to install 90 foot light poles in 2000 to replace older, smaller lights. Following several rounds of rejection and appeal between the Board of Education and town zoning officials, the new lights were approved by Planning and Zoning in 2002.
In 2003, Bill Effros, a neighbor to Greenwich High, sued the Board of Education and town, arguing that new lights shined too brightly in nearby homes and would have an “adverse environmental impact” by “unreasonably polluting, impairing or destroying the public trust in air, water or other natural resources.”
Effros and the Board of Education settled the case later that year, agreeing that school would not have the taller lights and must follow specific use regulations.
Erickson said Thursday that the board should be “pursuing multiple avenues” for finding lighted playing fields in case getting town approvals take more than a few weeks.
Other school board members said they will be pursuing a long-term solution to the limited availability of lighted playing fields in the future.
“This is not the permanent fix that we are all looking for,” said Republican BOE member Peter Bernstein. “This is to get us through so we have time to figure out what that permanent fix might be... this is to alleviate the immediate issue about student safety and athletics in the dark.”
Many Greenwich High School parents have told the school board they were worried about a lack of daylight after school and the impact of later school start times on athletics at previous Board of Education meetings and other public meetings.
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