OPRF stadium lights decision to take time, talk

? School board president says there will be plenty of public input, so don't expect a change soon.

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By DREW CARTER

A decision on whether to approve a Booster Club/PTO proposal to install lights at the Oak Park and River Forest High School stadium will not likely happen before fall, and will come only after "significant public hearings," the OPRF school board president said last week.

"It's going to be a long, drawn-out process," said John Rigas, who rose to president of the OPRF school board after his April re-election. "It's not going to happen in the short term."

Rigas' comments preceded a Boosters/PTO presentation and public comments on the proposal at the board's Finance Committee meeting last Thursday morning. He said the board will cull information and public feedback on stadium lights before sending the matter to a village zoning commission (Plan Commission or the Zoning Board of Appeals).

Representatives from the Boosters and PTO argued that sports participation has increased beyond the capacity of the OPRF facilities, and that adding lights to the stadium would provide for additional practice time and space while making the best use of the stadium field's artificial surface.

Having Friday night football games under the lights would provide for a school-spirit-building activity, and lights would bear no cost to taxpayers, the proponents said.

An Oak Park lighting designer working pro bono for the lights proponents said minimum impact would be made on neighbors by using a "well-designed lighting system." He said the amount of light reaching neighbors' homes would be similar to the amount of light reaching a sidewalk from a street light on the opposite side of Lake Street.

Proponents said the lights would be used most weekdays for three months in the spring and three months in the fall, and that they would be turned off at 8 p.m., unless games lasted longer. They said the village could handle any additional traffic in the area caused by evening games, that the school could handle security, and that parent groups could assist in litter removal after game nights.

They also said properties neighboring the high school have, on average, nearly doubled in value since 1999.

Neighbors say OPRF broke promises

Neighbors of the high school told the board they are the victims of broken promises surrounding the OPRF South Field, and that adding lights to the stadium would exacerbate the problem.

"It's a huge intrusion on our neighborhood, right in our front yard," said Robert Blomquist, of the 600 block of Ontario Street. "Couple that with a stadium across the street and you'll have Wrigleyville in Oak Park, with all the tawdriness that Wrigleyville brings."

He and other neighbors said the high school's situation was unique?#34;in the school's athletic conference and possibly the nation?#34;because of the number of and the proximity (27 yards) of some neighbors to a stadium light pole, and because the area being part of the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District.

Stephen Allsteadt of the 100 block of Frank Lloyd Wright Lane said the high school promised light trespass would be minimal from lights illuminating the South Field, and that litter would be handled by high school. He said neither was true in his experience.

"Why should we let a bad neighbor become a worse neighbor?" he asked the board.

Neighbors invited high school representatives to visit their homes during games or practices to see how much light enters their windows from the South Field lights, and to hear the stadium public address (PA) system blaring.

Replacing the PA would be part of lights installation, Booster/PTO reps said.

Neighbors delivered their concerns in impassioned pleas. Blomquist called lights a "luxury" for the high school, and asked the board to use "common sense" in deciding the issue.

"Please do this the right way because we're not going to give up," Blomquist said.

Contact: dcarter@wjinc.com

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