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Borough Council, School Board Approve Operations Agreement for South Track Lights

by on August 05, 2019 9:51 PM

State College Borough Council and State College Area School Board both unanimously approved on Monday night an operating agreement that allows for the use of new lighting at the high school South Track field.

Borough council approved a zoning amendment in May to permit the new 70-foot tall sports lighting, but the ordinance required an operation agreement to govern how late the lights can be used and for what events.

The school district sought to increase the permitted height for light standards from the existing 25 feet for the South Track field only to serve several purposes. One short-term use is for the State High football team, which will play its home games there during the 2019 season while Memorial Field is under renovation. But longer term, it will give the high school's marching band a better place to practice, no longer having to go across the street to use the north parking lot and remaining closer to the high school's south building, where all its equipment is stored. It also will give more flexibility for scheduling multiple fall and spring sports teams' practices and games.

The request sparked concerns from nearby residents in the Greentree neighborhood who worried about the brightness of the light as well as increased noise, traffic and parking that will come from additional events at the facility. District planners said the 70-foot lights can be better focused onto the field to prevent light from bleeding into the neighborhood than a lower light standard could. They also said the current 25-foot limit would be insufficient for sports lighting, creating shadows that would pose safety issues.

The operations agreement states that events at the South Track are to conclude no later than 9 p.m. Lights are to be dimmed to 50 percent while participants and spectators exit, with lights turned off by 9:15 p.m.

"The parties acknowledge that occasionally competition events may run longer than 9:00 p.m. or into overtime which will require the lighting to remain operational," the agreement says. "During such extensions, care will be taken to extinguish the lights as soon as possible following the conclusion of the varsity/junior varsity events."

Varsity football games can only be played at the field during the 2019 season and the agreement acknowledges football games tend to run past 9 p.m.

Band practices can utilize the lighting twice per week on weeknights during the fall season. 

The district will prioritize the new North Field, which also will have lights, for scheduling evening competitions and practices when possible. When Memorial Field is completed it and the North Field will be the primary venues for evening practices and competitions.

Sound amplification at the South Track can be used for competitions and band practices "but their use should be minimized as much as possible," according to the agreement. "These may be used on a limited basis but shall be subject to the same time limitations as herein above provided for the lighting."

Non-SCASD, outside organizations cannot utilize the lighting, per the agreement, which is effective for one year and will continue year to year unless terminated.

After meetings with neighboring residents, SCASD is developing a landscaping plan that will include planting trees and shrubs to act as barriers along the fence line on the west and north sides of the South Track. It is to be constructed "in a timely fashion," according to the agreement.

A lighted South Track will reduce how late various teams have to schedule practices at other facilities and will provide more opportunities for the district track and field teams, which have about 300 athletes.

Greentree neighborhood resident Amy English told borough council on Monday that she appreciates that council and the school board listened to residents' concerns and incorporated their input into the operation agreement.

"I’m cautiously optimistic about the agreement for this year, but remain concerned about future years with the potential for evening usage by community groups," she said.

Residents previously expressed concerns about parking and traffic on neighborhood streets as a result of increased events, and borough officials said they would work with police and the parking office to restrict parking in the neighborhood. English asked if a plan had been developed yet.

"I can honestly tell you we have not made much progress on that area yet," Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said. "We’ve been focused on trying to get this agreement in place. We’ll move now to parking before the first football game."

He noted that parking restrictions will be solely borough council's jurisdiction and not part of an agreement with the school district like the lighting is.

Councilwoman Theresa Lafer was one of three who voted against the zoning amendment in May because of resident concerns, but voted in favor of the operation agreement after meeting with the school board and neighborhood group.

"Because the neighbors were satisfied with the adjustments, I took my original no vote back," Lafer said. "But we will make sure we follow up on the parking as our next action… We will make sure we talk with the police, the parking ordinance people and that we bring this back to make sure there’s some sort of coverage and/or relief designed. We’ll see how well it works week to week, and if there are problems please bring it back to us."

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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