Debate over whether to install field lights at the Oak Park and River Forest High School stadium was civil Monday night, but fell along expected polarized lines, with school coaches, athletes and Booster Club parents speaking in favor of the proposal and neighbors speaking against it.
A group of roughly 60 gathered in OPRF’s Little Theatre at a Booster Club?#34;and Parent Teacher Organization?#34;hosted forum, which representatives from those organizations said was called to get as many opinions as possible on the issue, and applauded after each person, for or against, spoke.
The Booster Club has offered to raise the money to pay for the installation of stadium lights, and the Board of Education asked that Boosters gather public opinion.
The forum began with presentations by Booster-selected speakers who addressed the stadium’s history, use of the high school athletic fields, and the events-related issues of debris, security and traffic.
The athletic director from Lyons Township High School, Mike Morris, spoke, saying neighbors around that school’s Bennett Field feared lights before they were installed in 1995 for the same events-related issues, but that neighbors there now hardly notice the lights.
Peter Hugh, an owner of an Oak Park lighting company, said glare and light trespass?#34;or spillage into neighbors’ homes?#34;could be controlled by good design. He said light at U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox, is provided by many small fixtures, each illuminating a 5-foot diameter.
Hugh said tall poles would be better than short ones, as they allow light to be directed more downward, reducing spillage.
Results from a PTO parent unscientific survey showed that roughly 90 percent of the 319 respondents supported installing lights.
High school coaches argued that lights would be used at night primarily for five home football games, but that lights would also add available practice time on the stadium field. Currently, some teams are bussed to off-site practice fields.
Head football coach Jim Nudera said lights would put OPRF on a “level playing field” with other teams that have an extra day to prepare for their games with the Huskies, who use some of their Saturdays competing rather than recuperating and watching game films like teams who play on Friday nights.
The appeal was made that Friday night games would become well-attended events, building school spirit and providing a supervised activity for students.
But neighbors of the stadium and South Field said they’ve been burned by the high school in the past, and doubt claims that light, garbage, security, traffic and parking can be controlled.
“The not-so-good news is that there is light spillage … Lights do shine into our homes,” said Roberta Arnold, president of the Euclid Place Residents Association.
Another neighbor, Terry Lieber, said comparisons to other fields often is inappropriate because of residences’ distance from the field. She said residences at other stadiums like Lyons, Hinsdale Central or Riverside-Brookfield were no closer than 56 yards from the field. Her home is 18 yards from the OPRF field, she said.
“We are closer to the play than many people in the stadium,” Lieber said. “18 yards?#34;that’s not much farther than a first down.”
Patrick Tranmer said the discussion had formed along lines of those for athletics, school spirit, health and other proposed benefits of the lights, and seemingly those against. He said that was not the case?#34;that as a neighbor he was for all of the pros mentioned in support of lights.
He asked that people address the issue as a community, as though they were living across the street from the fields as he does, just as he said he is concerned for neighbors of Barrie Park and the proposed Whiteco development at Harlem and Ontario.
“If this was only about Friday night lights, I wouldn’t be here,” Tranmer said. “This is about Monday night lights, Tuesday night lights …”
Tranmer’s kids, 7 and 10, go to bed between 7:45 and 8 p.m., and lights and activity on the fields might disturb their sleep, he said.
Organizers said questions would be gathered and answered at a follow-up forum scheduled for May 2.
Arguments for and against lights at the OPRF stadium weren’t all above-the-belt. One speaker on each side of the issue cited hypothetical examples of how students might be injured or killed unless their side won the day.
Below is a sampling of quotes from the forum:
“Good design makes a difference. Fixtures make a difference.”
?#34;Peter Hugh, owner of Hugh Lighting Design, 943 N. East Ave.
“I think the benefits are limitless. They outweigh the problems.”
?#34;Ed O’Bradovich, assistant varsity football coach
“We are closer to the play than many people in the stadium. Eighteen yards?#34;that’s not much more than a first down.”
?#34;Terry Lieber, neighbor, on living 18 yards from the field
“I want to have a place where I know kids are going to be supervised on a Friday night.”
?#34;Al Allen, head basketball coach
“There’s a sense that the high school hasn’t [made good on] some agreements in the past.”
?#34;Lane Hart, neighbor