Whether the temporary lights forcing residents to close their blinds on Friday nights will become a permanent fixture at St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy is still up in the air.
Neighbors to the school, at 901 Boalsburg Pike, voiced that and other concerns on Monday related to the school’s football games. To start a dialogue, Harris Township Manager Amy Farkas invited residents and school officials to that night’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
It is the inaugural football season for St. Joseph’s, which opened in 2011 in the building that was previously an elementary school and, decades ago, a high school.
Residents said it was news to them this summer that football games would take place adjacent to their homes, coming home from vacations to tree limbs down and earth being moved. They also weren’t prepared for people traipsing on their private property on game nights.
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“The thing that’s been hardest for us, and most intrusive, is the generators are turned on at 4:30 in the afternoon,” said Dotty Delafield. “You can hear those generators inside our houses with the doors and windows closed.”
The generators run temporary lights on game nights — the school scheduled five home games this season, four of those at night. Two remain, this Friday and next.
St. Joseph’s Principal Chris Chirieleison and board President Robert Thomas said they are still evaluating whether the football team will play at the school next year, or elsewhere. Thomas said State College Area and Bald Eagle Area schools declined to share their fields.
“I understand your complaints and we’re definitely concerned about them as well,” he said.
One thing Thomas said school officials have done is turn off music that played previously over a public announcement system. The neighbors thanked him for that.
“I’ve found it intrusive and not pleasant,” Delafield said of the game-time experience. “I hope you’re going to find a better venue than this.”
Farkas said the township was caught off-guard by the decision to host football games at the school, though it’s the school’s right to do so. However, Harris helped school officials secure the permits necessary to erect the scoreboard, press box and bleachers, and allowed for game parking at Nittany View Park, down the street.
“I can’t say this enough — they’ve been good neighbors,” Farkas said. “They’ve tried to work with the neighbors and get them to the school. The problem is you’re trying to play PIAA football in a residential neighborhood that doesn’t necessarily have the infrastructure.”
Farkas said Monday night that she noticed school staff helping people park on Belle Avenue, which was “really helpful.”
Tom Weber called it a “shock” to come home from vacation and see tree limbs gone. He said his home is on the 50-yard line, seats he doesn’t have to pay for, except that he’s had people wander into his yard and use a swing. He put up caution tape during the last game.
“We pull the blinds, and it’s dark now anyhow, but it is pretty bright” he said of the game lights. “It’s a change and shock of what we were used to. I understand it’s the first season.”
Chirieleison said the school has learned from each game how better to handle the events and limit impact on the community, and staff will look into turning the generators on closer to game time.
“You’ve done a fabulous job up there,” said township Chairman Paul Rittenhouse, adding to the residents later, “It sounds like the school is trying everything to solve the problems.”