Board approval of South Track lighting paves the way for increased athletics field options

The State College Area school board has approved lighting for the South Track at State College Area High School.
The State College Area school board has approved lighting for the South Track at State College Area High School.

With the unanimous board approval Monday night of lighting for the South Track and removable goal posts for that location as well as North Field, the State College Area School District is paving the way toward opening up more practice and competition site options for the district’s athletic teams and marching band.

The purchase of the 70-foot-high lighting structures, which are 45 feet taller than what’s allowed by zoning restrictions, is pending approval of a text amendment by State College Borough Council to the zoning ordinance for that part of the high school campus. A public hearing and vote will be held May 6.

Administration, according to a memo from SCASD Director of Physical Plant Ed Poprik, wanted the board’s approval prior to the public hearing so, if passed, the order can potentially be placed May 7, and the project complete in August — ahead of fall competition season.

The lighting project has been quoted at $441,209 by Musco Sports Lighting LLC and negotiated through the Keystone Purchasing Network Cooperative bid — the same process used for the North Field lights.

“This adds some real long-term opportunities for our students because we’ll now have the two fields that can be used for any number of things,” board member Laurel Zydney said during the meeting. “To me, it’s an expense, but really a long-term investment.”

The benefits of having both the North Field and South Track outfitted with lights, Athletic Director Chris Weakland told the Centre Daily Times, will allow more flexibility for practice times, and for competition to not be restricted by daylight.

“How we’re able to use our space is so valuable to us, with the programs we have, as large as we have, serving so many teams, that many times we are limited by daylight,” he said.

The junior varsity soccer team was one team that experienced the consequences last year of running out of daylight at South Track, Weakland said. Due to overcast skies and a longer-than-average varsity game, he said, JV only got to play 20 minutes before the game was called.

“With lights, we’ll be able to provide a better experience for these kids and opportunities for them,” he said. “And also for their families who make the trip to watch them play.”

Another benefit of the lights would be flexibility with practices, Weakland said. Instead of having boys’ lacrosse practice from 4-6 p.m. and girls’ from 6-8 p.m., both on Memorial Field, they could theoretically both practice right after school, and get home earlier, he said.

The lighting project would also make the South Track a suitable option for the varsity football team while renovations are being done on Memorial Field this fall.

In a special meeting on March 26, the school board approved bids totaling $11,656,900 to Leonard S. Fiore ($9,284,000) for general contracting services; Silvertip Inc. ($896,000) for plumbing and fire prevention; Silvertip Inc. ($579,600) for HVAC; and Bob Biter Electric ($897,300) for electric; as well as $2,505,585 in soft costs for the Memorial Field renovation project.

In that same meeting, the board also approved a construction timeline of this April to August 2020, necessitating alternate venues for athletic teams during that time.

With that project on the horizon, Weakland said the district is preparing both the South Track and the new turf North Field, constructed where the driver’s ed tower used to be along Westerly Parkway, for the possibility of serving as alternative venues for Friday night varsity football games.

That includes the board’s approval Monday of three steel movable goal post sleeves for $18,842.84 in both locations, and the board’s approval on March 26 to purchase three towable bleachers with a capacity of 300 seats each — at a cost not to exceed $154,000 —which can be used at either location.

“Once we get the plans together, it looks like it could be an exciting venue for Friday night football games,” Weakland said of the South Track.

The SCASD teams that utilize rectangular field space on the high school campus, according to Weakland, include varsity, JV and two middle school football teams, boys’ and girls’ soccer, boys’ and girls’ lacrosse and field hockey. Boys’ and girls’ track and field — the State High team with the most participants — also utilizes the South Track.

In addition, having a lighted filed right near the new music wing near the back of the renovated high school building, will allow the marching band to be able to have evening practices without having to carry their instruments and equipment across the parkway and back.

State College Borough Council received SCASD’s request for a change to the zoning ordinance lighting provisions in November, and deferred the matter to the Planning Commission. District administrators met with the planning commission on three separate occasions to discuss the matter and receive input from stakeholders. The district also held a neighborhood meeting in January to speak with residents who live near the site.

Some public concerns, recorded in the March 13 Planning Commission meeting minutes, included more noise in the area due to increased activity on the field, as well as light pollution. Residents also shared support for the lights, noting lack of field space, in general, in the region.

From the input, the Planning Commission drafted a proposed ordinance, containing an operational agreement for the lighting. The proposed agreement includes provisions for when the lights will be used and the duration they will be turned on, and assurances the lighting will only be used only for activities outlined in the agreement, unless approved by council.