State College residents have concerns about increased usage of SCASD’s South Track
In a 4-3 vote, State College Borough Council on Monday narrowly approved a text amendment to allow 70-foot-high light structures at the high school’s South Track field. Questions about when the lights will be used, for how long and for what events, however, still remain.
With council members Dan Murphy, Cathy Dauler, Evan Myers and Jesse Barlow voting for and Theresa Lafer, Janet Engeman and David Brown against, the vote to permit the lights also granted council and the State College Area school board the authority to draft an operational use agreement to negotiate those specifics.
The timeline for the vote on the operational use agreement is not yet known, but borough Manager Tom Fountaine said the goal is to have the agreement in place by the end of July, ahead of the fall sports season. With the way the amendment is constructed, the lights will not be operational until the agreement is in place, he said.
The school district initially approached Borough Council with the request to amend the residential zoning ordinance to allow for 45-foot-taller light structures at the 650 Westerly Parkway location in November. Council then referred the matter to Planning Commission, which drafted the ordinance.
The main reasons behind wanting to make that change, Superintendent Bob O’Donnell outlined at the May 6 public hearing, were to provide a field facility for the high school’s marching band, to increase facility use potential for the track and field teams, and to allow scheduling flexibility for the school’s field hockey, soccer lacrosse and football programs, allowing the student-athletes to get home sooner from practice.
South Track has also been presented by the district as the best alternative venue for high school football games this fall, as Memorial Field undergoes $14 million in renovations.
For Greentree neighborhood residents, however, the lights and the increased opportunity for field usage bring concerns about the potential for more noise, traffic, parking and safety issues in their neighborhood. About 40 community members, including several school district representatives, attended Monday’s meeting to offer comments in support of and against the text amendment.
“We haven’t taken the time to have a band practice on the field yet, but I have a strong feeling it’s going to be very loud in my dining room. And I think I’m going to struggle to have conversations with my children at night during dinner,” Ted Reutzal, whose Edgewood Circle property backs up to the track, said. “My suggestion is, let’s have a band practice on the field before we move this way, and let’s see what it’s like.”
Council, however, was short on time to make a decision, with the fall sports season inching closer. With the school board’s unanimous approval on April 22 for the South Track lighting, quoted at $441,209 by Musco Sports Lighting LLC, council’s vote gives the school district the immediate authority to place the order for lights.
“I think it’s really clear that our community has been committed to keeping the high school at this campus, but part of keeping it at this campus is that we’ve intended to improve the facility for our students and improve the experiences that they’re able to have on that campus, including with athletics and marching band,” board President Amber Concepcion said. “I want council to understand that our board is going to be committed to coming to an agreement on the timing and the uses of that field through a cooperative process.”
The operational use agreement is how both entities plan to address residents’ specific concerns, such as the potential for parking overflow on Edgewood Circle, and determining if and when outside groups like Centre Soccer Association can use the field.
In response to concerns raised that even with an operational use agreement, the time the lights are kept on until could progressively get later, O’Donnell said that beyond football games, the district would be capable of implementing a long-term hard 9 p.m. shutoff time. A 9:15 p.m. exception would be made for marching band, which typically practices until 8:45 p.m., he said.
In addition to South Track, the district also has a brand new turf field — dubbed North Field — on the other side of Westerly Parkway, where the old drivers ed tower used to be. The 70-foot-high light structures are already allowed at that field under its zoning ordinance. Community and council members alike suggested the district use that field instead for later practices and football games.
O’Donnell said that having lights on both fields will reduce campus congestion, especially once the Delta Program moves into the North Building. Having the marching band practice in the North Building parking lot will take up parking spaces used by the Delta Program, as well as those utilizing the North Field for athletic games and practices, he said.