It’s a recurring question in suburban areas like Scarsdale — Will improvements to our community hurt the quality of life for our residents?
That’s the question Scarsdale Schools Director of Physical Education Ray Pappalardi continues to consider as he pushes for new lights at Scarsdale High School’s Butler Field.
Pappalardi began engaging the community on the prospect of lights at the football field/track in mid-January. He met with neighborhood association presidents Jan. 22 and then area residents Jan. 29.
Among the concerns present during the discussions were — noise, light pollution, traffic, littering and parking on neighborhood streets.
Pappalardi addressed concerns about lights, scheduling of events, noise and traffic in a presentation Feb. 11 to the board of education.
The district is looking to install lights that are congruent with the DarkSky Association’s design criteria for Community-Friendly Outdoor Sports Lighting.
That criteria includes targeted illumination so the lights would have no effect on areas beyond 150 feet from the area for which the lights are designated.
Pappalardi and his department are currently looking at Musco LED Lights. The athletic director said Musco claimed to be able to light only the football field and have the track left in the dark.
Pappalardi said the district would probably select something a little less restrictive.
Currently, the school rents gas-powered lights to use during night games, but, Papparldi said, those lights are not good for the environment, are loud and add to the overall light pollution.
The new lights, he said, would primarily be used in September, October, March, April and May, although it’s also possible the lights would be in use during November, June and August.
According to data compiled from 2014 to 2019, the Scarsdale team with the highest amount of outdoor night games at home is the football team with an average of 2.4 games per year. The next highest is the boys soccer team with an average of .6 night games per year.
With permanent lights installed, the number of games would likely increase, with five night football games per year, four night games for boys soccer (two for Varsity A and two for Varsity B) and four night games for girls soccer (two for Varsity A, two for Varsity B).
Pappalardi said he plans to consult experts to determine how to keep noise at the games focused in the field area. In addition, the district may utilize staff to help assist with parking and traffic in order to mitigate those concerns.
School board members and administration also discussed what happens when non-high school students use the field.
Recently, seventh- and eighth-graders had to use the field because fields at Scarsdale Middle School were wet and not ideal to hold practices or games.
In addition, local sports organizations may seek to use Butler Field if lights are installed. However, Pappalardi noted those organizations commonly have children under age 14 and, in that case, they wouldn’t be likely to have night games.
He also said the district would control the use of the fields beyond high school teams with scheduled games. In other words, the district could do more to make sure games are not held too late into the night.
Pappalardi also said he does not plan to rent out the field to non-Scarsdale entities.
Butler Field neighbors concerned about the lighting plan sought assurances from the school district.
Carstensen Road resident Mark Michael said he respected the school’s push to improve the experience of its student athletes. He noted he is the father of two student athletes, a cheerleader and a member of the crew team.
However, he said, the focus should be on students in general. He said while his kids are studying at home, there have been noise issues with the field. He said he or his wife have tried multiple times to discuss those issues with the school. He said when students are using the field, even without the speakers or P.A. system, there is still general noise that comes from the field.
During his presentation, Pappalardi admitted the school needs to do a better job monitoring when the students use the speaker system during practice or before games.
“That’s been going on for years,” said Michael. “Continuing to go over to the school and talk to Person A today and Person B tomorrow and someone completely different six months later, that gets taxing and at some point you get worn down.”
Michael said he is not in favor of the lights, but if the district is going ahead with the plan to install them, he feels the residents should have a say in the rules set for use of lights at Butler Field.
Sherbrooke Road resident David Bunzel also spoke to the board in his capacity as head of the Heathcote Neighborhood Association.
Bunzel said residents on Heathcote and Sherbrooke roads who live near Butler Field would love to support the new lights at the field, but they feel there must be “serious efforts” to alleviate the impact to nearby residents.
During his presentation, Pappalardi mentioned with the addition of new lights, stop times for football games could go as late as 10 p.m., and Bunzel said that is “entirely” too late.
Bunzel also added there should be more tree cover on Post Road and Wayside Lane, as recent storms damaged tree cover that used to buffer the area.
He suggested the district consider adding evergreen trees and irrigation to help with the glare that will come from the lights on the field.
“We would stress this needs to be part of the budget and a part of your policy before this all gets done,” Bunzel said.
In addition, said Bunzel, “A more realistic schedule that includes all the practice times, all the games and all use by [local sports organizations] needs to be presented to us.”
The addition of new lights at Butler Field would be the latest in a series of improvements at the field. In January, the district was forced to shut down the football field because it was deemed unsafe. They have since installed new synthetic turf on the field and are preparing to resurface the track at the end of the track season this spring. Currently, the track is available for the track team to practice but not for the school to host meets.