Commission Continues Public Hearing on Proposal for Permanent Lights at High School Track and Field Facility
By John Fitts
CANTON — On Wednesday, the Planning and Zoning Commission heard varying opinions about a proposal for permanent lighting at the high school track and field facility but ultimately continued its public hearing until Nov. 16.
The school district is seeking a special permit use, special permit and site plan modification that would allow four 80-foot poles with dimmable LED lighting at the facility, school officials said. Light spillage is extremely well controlled with the new technology, according to school officials and
Essentially the commission can create a special standard for the facility that is outside the normal parameters of lighting in town while balancing community concerns. Members said it would have no bearing on future proposals.
“The commission should be cognizant of the wide range of public interests served by this type of municipal facility which should be balanced against the interests of single family residences that live in close proximity to this facility,” Neil S. Pade, Director of Planning and Community Development wrote in a memo on the proposal.
The district has proposed that the lights would be turned off by 10 p.m. except on rare occasion, by 11:30 p.m. School officials said the norm would be earlier, more like 8 to 8:30 p.m. The district is also proposing consideration for up to two overnight community events per year.
On Wednesday the commission heard from several people, including several parents and students who touted extended playing time and neighbors who raised concerns, especially around noise-related issues.
Todd Follert, who lives near the school, asked several questions about start times, funding and more. He said he was fine with night games but raised concerns about a recent night football game.
“Just last week, there was a game there and it was extremely loud,” he said.
Follert also expressed concern about the idea of allowing usage until 11:30 p.m.
“The noise until 11:30 would be quite a bit,” he said.
Later in the meeting, School superintendent Kevin D. Case said the 11:30 p.m. time is only proposed as the rare exception. The standard cutoff is proposed at 10 p.m. but there are no plans to run the facility that late on a nightly basis, according to Case. He felt a usage agreement should be worked outside of the Planning and Zoning Process but said it would consider all viewpoints.
“I believe that is a separate issue but I just want to reassure the abutting property owners that they’re certainly not going to be on every night until 10 p.m.,” Case said.
Case said he is already working with the athletic department to minimize noise and make changes to the public address system. Greg Skinner, president of the Canton Athletic Booster Club, said football is the only play-by-play sport and that the system was turned up to overcome nose from generators powering the temporary lights at one recent game.
Chris Weller, president Canton Youth Soccer, a board member of the lacrosse club and varsity high school lacrosse coach, said that with the various programs, high participation and volunteer coaches who in the fall are scrambling to get in some practice time before dark, lights would be a huge help.
“We have a lack of space for all the kids in town and programs suffer,” he said. “If we’re able to maybe possibly have one to two hours of practice each night, not too late then it would really help alleviate our scheduling problem.”
Abutting property owner Victoria Scranton said her kids have utilized the turf and he is thankful for it. But she also raised concerns about the public address system and about noise generated by intense usage. Already she can loudly hear whistles in her home and word for word dialogue from some coaches, Scranton said.
Usage, Scranton said, becomes the big question.
“Is it going to be every single weekend from September, all the way through June. Is it going to be that developmental lacrosse wants to get a game in under the light for the 8-year-olds at 9 O’clock at night because it’s cool. Is it going to be primarily use for high school sports?” she said.
Scranton said there are not only many sports but also those with many age groups and multi-season sports.
“I think that’s where this can easily begin to creep into lights on until 9 p.m., seven days a week,” she said.
Kimberly Marze co-chairs the Lights on Canton effort, a subcommittee of the Canton Athletic Booster Club. Lights on Canton is ready to raise funds for the project, should it be approved. Members of that committee estimate it would take 12 to 18 months to raise the money. The lights are estimated at approximately $230,000 and the committee feels there could be as much as $20,000 in associated costs. The school district would pay electricity.
Marze emphasized the community aspect of the project, saying people of all ages take advantage of the facility.
“Usually a community has one heart but here in Canton we are blessed with two, an adult one, an artistic, funky and sometimes highly inebriated one, located in Collinsville and our young vibrant heart, located in our schools,” she said. “The lights would make that one a little bit stronger by making the field more accessible and available to multiple groups in our community for a longer period of time during the year. This includes not only youth sports and high school sports but the many community members who rely on the track as a safe place to walk or run during the evening hours.” Lights would also provide more opportunities for all segments of our community to come together to enjoy a game or another event.”
Jonathan Thiesse, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, made it clear that its members have no jurisdiction over aspects such as price, maintenance and equity of playing time.
However, the commission did talk about whether to be more strict in setting conditions or set a period of time, after which members could modify the agreement if there were issues.
Ultimately, the commission continued the hearing so the Board of Education could provide further information, particularly specifics of light spillage levels at property lines and further details about the district’s ideas of how intense field usage would be with lights. Members decided against having the district fly balloons at the site, which some said was an unreliable indicator.