Maroon & White gets Butler lights go-ahead from school board photo

Butler Field remains a work in progress. The track surface will be poured over the summer and lights are being considered for installation.

Lights on Butler Field took a major step forward at last week’s Scarsdale Schools Board of Education meeting. The board approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that Maroon & White will fundraise for the costs of the entire project, in addition to giving the athletics booster organization the thumbs up for its most recent donor recognition plan.

The lights at the turf field at Scarsdale High School aren’t a done deal by any means as the school board and Scarsdale Village, which leases the land the field is on to the school district, will have a preliminary meeting Wednesday, June 19, at 6:30 p.m. at Scarsdale Congregational Church to discuss the proposed project, which would include four 80-foot-high light posts to extended the field’s usage times. The village board held a work session on the topic on June 17, and has just announced it will hold another work session on June 25 with the Advisory Council for the Scarsdale Parks and Recreation Department. 

Any major work planned by the school district on property leased from the village requires joint agency approval. Butler Field was closed down suddenly late last summer and a new turf carpet was installed in the fall and winter in time for use this spring. Work was also done to replace the track and the new surface is expected to be poured this summer over the blacktop that is currently there.

“They’re coming into the conversation more recently,” SHS director of health, physical education and athletics Ray Pappalardi said of the village. “They haven’t lived through the discussion since November. It depends how long it takes them to get up to speed and feel comfortable with what we’re doing and understand that we’ve addressed issues and we’ve made changes in the regulation and that we’ve tried to keep the community abreast of those changes and been responsive to what their concerns have been.”

Since the announcement of the potential project, residents in the area of Butler Field have complained to school district administrators about the noise level that currently comes from practices and games through the public address system during daylight hours, in addition to the potential for increased traffic, increased pollution and increased late-night events they believe would negatively impact the neighborhood and the well-being of students.

Pappalardi has been making a tour of Scarsdale’s neighborhood associations to get feedback from all sides. “That’s important [so] that everyone feels their input is valued and that [feedback] is contributing to the document used to regulate the usage of that field,” he said.

Maroon & White co-president Kate Conlan said village approval is a “significant new hurdle,” and she’s been dismayed by what she said is misinformation and misconceptions spread publicly and privately by residents about the impact of the lights. “Light usage will not be all the time,” she said. “We’re the last peer community to have lights. They all have four 80-foot poles.”

An alternative to the four-pole system would be a six-pole design, with each being 70 feet tall and costing an estimated $65,000 extra each, but that idea didn’t seem high on the radar of anyone at the June 10 school board meeting.

Conlan appreciates what the athletic department and school board have done in addressing all concerns over the lights. “They realize they need people to pick up trash after the events,” she said. “With amplified sound they’re throwing $50,000 at this. They’re really bending over (backwards).”

“The best thing that has come out of that, where we all agree 100 percent, is that the current loudspeaker that is used by the school is horrendous,” Maroon & White member Matt Conlan said. “It doesn’t do the job it’s supposed to do. It’s not very good at delivering sound to the people on the field. It’s excellent at delivering sound to people who are two and three blocks away from the field.”

Field closures are constant in Scarsdale, even when other towns have their fields open in the same weather conditions. This goes for school and village fields.

“We have a lot of high school student-athletes and we don’t have enough fields for them on the best of days, and we have so many days that aren’t the best days weatherwise,” Conlan said, adding there have been weeks when it rains and no grass fields are open, and in March, no grass fields are open on any day.

“So for preseason in the spring, the turf field is the only field available [and] for many days in the spring and the fall the turf field is the only field available,” said Conlan. “Having lights on that field will allow teams to have practices that would otherwise not be able to have practices because [use of] the turf field would be limited by sunlight.”

What originally started as a Butler Field lights regulation document turned into a usage and noise plan for all district fields, with Butler Field in particular getting special treatment should the lights be installed.

“What we decided after doing all this work that was so microscopic was we took a step back and realized this actually applied to all our fields across the district,” Schools Superintendent Thomas Hagerman said. “We had not been having that conversation and [what] was unique to Butler Field and the track were the lights, which are a subset of this policy.”

Among the matters addressed in the regulation — the school board said it does not have to pass the document or get it approved — are permit and rental applications, insurance, fees and usage times and who is allowed to use the field. A page and a half of the four-page document focuses on Butler Field use with lights.

The field lights would be used for districts teams, rec department teams and approved Scarsdale Independent Sports Organizations (ISOs). The months of use would be August through November and March through May. The document calls for the ability to use lights until 8 p.m. — though Maroon & White and some school board members argued for 9 p.m. — for practices.

As far as games are concerned, that’s where the potential noise and late nights come in. Among the main points in the regulation are:

  • · Night games must start by 7 p.m. Football must be done with lights off by 10 p.m., other sports at 9 p.m.
  • · No more than 15 regular season night games may be held each year, with four additional allowances for playoff games. If there are back-to-back games, they count as one.
  • · In addition, 16 twilight contests are permitted per school year. An example is a junior varsity game such as field hockey or girls lacrosse, which plays directly after varsity and often does not get a proper warm-up and in many cases ends the game early due to a lack of light. These games would need to be finished by 8 p.m. There are an additional four allowances to account for an imbalance in home games.
  • · Up to 10 community events are also permitted for soccer, football and lacrosse throughout the year, with Sunday to Thursday events over by 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday events to end by 9 p.m.
  • · There is a section regarding game delays due to weather, injury, overtime or “a significant public safety event,” which allows for the lights to be turned off 30 minutes after the “natural conclusion” of the game.
  • · The district will publish the intended list of events and notify the community of changes.
  • · “Amplified sound” can be used at any event for 30 minutes prior to each game for warm-ups, pre-game announcements, the National Anthem and “game-time” announcements.

To avoid delays, particularly in issuing permits and communication, Pappalardi said he would have rain contingency plans in place so that any field time that’s unused by high school teams would be allotted in advance to youth sports.

“The main purpose of this was really to benefit Scarsdale student-athletes, to be able to highlight our athletes, and especially our seniors who play field sports, and we really wanted to bring the community together for these events,” Pappalardi said. “I’m still hopeful that these events will draw the community together. There have been several really wonderful nights that we’ve had under the lights and I’m hopeful this will contribute to more.”

When one school board member brought up the potential for increased use of Butler Field for nonathletic events, Hagerman said, “We have to be careful. We’ve invested a lot of money in this space. We want to make sure it gets used for its intended purpose for many years to come. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been protecting this space…”

As part of the MOU, Light the Future! — the Maroon & White committee — has agreed to cover the entire cost of the project, including overrun. If the entirety of the funds can’t be secured by the Light the Future! Committee, the school board will decide where to go from there.

Matt Conlan noted the $810,000 estimated project cost includes a 25 percent overrun contingency. As of early last week, the Light the Future! Committee said it had commitments for about half the cost, but was waiting for the MOU and donor recognition plan to be passed in order to go full steam with the fundraising effort.

The donor recognition plan will honor all donors with a full-page ad in The Scarsdale Inquirer and the Maroon & White Journal, which is printed three times per year, for a two- or three-year period. Those donating $1,000 or more will have their name engraved on a brick as part of a 50- by 10-foot walkway that leads to the bleachers closest to the gym entrance at the high school.

Donations of $1,000 to $4,999 would be acknowledged by a 4-inch x 8-inch engraved brick, with the bricks getting bigger with each donation range. The largest brick will be 2 feet by 2 feet for Maroon & White, which has pledged $200,000 from its general fund for the project. The next largest brick would be 10 inches by 10 inches. Donations of $10,000 or more would feature a brick with an engraved bronze insert.

School board member Alison Tepper Singer said the new donor recognition plan is “more in compliance” with the current board policies.

Board member Christopher Morin said, “I understand people who don’t like recognition at all, but we’ve come to accept that it’s the way of the world, it’s very effective and in some ways it’s very constructive and welcomed. This is as subtle as it gets on the ground in a modestly tiered recognition.”

Nina Ledis Cannon called it “tasteful,” and the board’s vice president Pam Fuehrer said the location was “good.”

Maroon & White walked away from the meeting with a sense of relief and is now taking donations through maroonandwhite.org.

“It’s the right thing for the kids and we are very proud to be on the precipice of actually being able to get this installed in our community,” Matt Conlan said. “If we had more than one [turf] field it wouldn't be so critical. This is an opportunity — probably the lowest cost opportunity — to get extra field hours during soggy conditions.”

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