The Methacton School Board, at its Oct. 16 regular meeting, discussed an update over the potential installation of stadium lights and synthetic turf on the Methacton High School athletic field, located in Worcester Township.
According to the district’s website, the Methacton school board of directors voted unanimously at their Oct. 25, 2011 regular meeting to approve the athletic field improvements.
Methacton School District superintendent Dr. Timothy Quinn, focused the update on a three-page document [see .pdf media gallery], titled “Approval Conditions for Lights on Athletic Fields at Methacton High School.”
The document regulates appropriate uses of the athletic field, particularly during its nighttime use.
According to Quinn, the document is the result of several recent meetings with a representative of Worcester residents, who live adjacent to the high school athletic fields.
“We developed a document that I’m suggesting the board approve, relative to the use of the lights,” Quinn told the board. “I believe the document, as I present it to you, will allow our student athletes to fulfill their entire schedule on the field.”
Quinn said that he brought the needs of Methacton’s athletic director to the residents’ meetings, and stated that the document provides comfort to the neighboring residents while satisfying the needs of the district.
“I think that the residents seemed very reasonable and really worked hard to come up with the document,” Quinn said, later adding, “It was a good community effort, good progress.”
The document outlines eight points, addressing various conditions of field use:
- “Allowed Users of MHS’ Athletic Fields when Illuminated”
- “Frequency of Use”
- “Times of Use and Illumination Intensity”
Underneath most of the points made, the document provides reasons that explain the need for certain conditions. For example, under "Frequency of Use," the concern here would be potential problems with noise, traffic, parking and security.
Initial reactions from school board members expressed a sense that the document’s points may restrict district administration, or with some particular points, be unreasonable.
Joyce Petrauskas, board president, particularly took exception to the document’s position on “non-school-sponsored athletic or related groups” not being able to use the lighted athletic field for any nighttime activity or event.
The document provides examples of such groups to include, “community athletic clubs or other community groups, whether for children or adults.”
“I, as a board member, would not agree to that,” Petrauskas said. “I think it would be too restrictive.”
She later pointed out that the school district serves residents in two townships, where the district must be a good neighbor to everyone that may benefit from using the field at night.
Calthleen Barone, board member, also pointed out that restricting those who may use the fields for nighttime events will also restrict potential revenue for the district.
“We only have so many things to do to raise revenue for the district. If we don’t raise revenue, we have to raise taxes.” Barone said, later adding, “If we trust them to be good neighbors, they have to trust us to be good neighbors and let us go on with our business.”
Barone, along with other board members, questioned how safe users of the nighttime field would be if they had only 15-minutes to vacate the field due to time restraints on field illumination.
According to one board member, the idea behind the field improvements was initially proposed with the consideration of students’ safety in mind.
According to the document, under the “Times of Use and Illumniation Intensity” point, the lights would stay on until after games are finished, plus 15 additional minutes to vacate the field. The document further states that general nighttime field use is expected to end by 9 p.m. and provides three extensions throughout the school year, with certain exceptions.
The fourth extension, for up to 30 minutes after 9 p.m., would be a violation of the conditions made in the document.
Other school board members raised concerns over the document’s condition stating that non-band music or other audio programming, with the exception of the U.S. National Anthem, would be prohibited.
While board members voiced opposition to portions of the document, it did not seem as if the board as a whole wanted to be rid of the document altogether.
According to board member Kim Woodring, the relationship between the district and its Worcester neighbors have grown in trust over the years.
“Our group can hammer out any objections there may be,” Woodring said. “I am not willing to throw the whole thing out.”
Over 40 residents, some identifying themselves as living in Lower Providence or Worcester, attended the Oct. 16 meeting. The majority of public comments seemed in favor of the particular board objections with the document, and the majority wanted the field improvements to go forward.
“This is not just about athletics, this is about bringing up the level of all our kids,” said one Worcester resident. “We definitely want to move this forward, find a crack and get this over the goal line. This is too important to let us be sidelined by any of these issues and the bickering-type things.”
In addition to hammering out resident and board concerns before the athletic field improvements may proceed, Quinn said that several Worcester Township variances must also be approved, as well as a change in the township’s ordinance relative to lights.
When asked if board member concerns would be detrimental to the progress of the field improvements, Quinn said that further discussion is expected from both the board and the residents.
“I think the board is very meticulously considering every component of this, and they have a responsibility to the community,” Quinn said. “I wouldn’t characterize it as negative. It is their procedural due diligence.”
For more information, visit www.methacton.org.