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Sports Under Lights in East Hampton

Thu, 06/08/2023 - 10:53

In disputed decision, E.H.H.S. will illuminate a field

Ed Collum, center, a resident of East Hampton and a former teacher as well, is among those who object to the East Hampton School District’s plan to install LED lights at the turf athletic field.
Christine Sampson

Over the objections of Ed Collum, Kate Collum Gibbons, and other members of their family, which has lived next to East Hampton High School since before it was built in 1970, the East Hampton School Board on Tuesday resolved that lights will be installed at the turf athletic field.

The idea has come up in the past. This time, it began with a group of parents whose spokesman is John Edwards, a town resident who was also instrumental in fund-raising for the revamped Montauk Skate Park. Mr. Edwards has two sons who attend and play sports at the high school.

“It seems like most of the high schools that I go to, to watch my sons play at, all have lights, but being the furthest east, we need them more than anyone else. It gets darker here very quickly,” he said by phone yesterday morning. “It would be so beneficial, especially post-Covid when we’re trying to get the kids outside again and off their phones. I think the whole community will benefit from this. The kids will be able to play more sports and more activities year round.”

According to the board’s resolution, Musco LED towers would be installed at the edges of the field, allowing athletes to play games into the evening hours.

Musco Lighting, which is based in Iowa, is “in the forefront of light development,” said Kathy Masterson, East Hampton’s athletic director, who said she was in a similar situation when she had the same job at Westhampton Beach High.

There, she said, it took three tries over several years to get the lights installed, after overcoming community opposition to find a compromise. Musco, she said, is responsive to the “dark skies” movement, and offers the latest technology for energy efficiency.

Ms. Gibbons, who is in her 29th year teaching at the John M. Marshall Elementary School here, said during Tuesday’s meeting that “it’s not only the lights on the field — it’s all the other things that come with it,” including “additional noise, situations, and behaviors” that Collum family members consider detrimental to their quality of life.

“Many in our family have worked with the children of this community and many of us have played sports on this field,” Ms. Gibbons told the school board. “We are not in support of lights on the turf, due to the impact it would have on our lives.” She later added, “Please do not mistake our lack of support for lights on the turf as not being supportive of the youth in this community.”

Ms. Gibbons urged the board to find an alternate location for a lit-up field “that is centrally located on the high school campus, where the impact would be equitable to all neighbors.”

“We hope to be involved in the discussion and planning, as this will impact our lives,” she said.

Board members who supported the lights, including Christina DeSanti, Sandra Vorpahl, John Ryan Sr., Jackie Lowey, and Justine O’Mara Limonius, said they would only do so under a strict policy governing their use.

Ms. Masterson urged that the policy be “respectful to our neighbors, because they are our neighbors and we want to work with them to be the best for everyone involved. . . . That is a line of communication I plan on having with the Collums every step of the way.”

Sarah Minardi, a school board member, was absent from the meeting. J.P. Foster, the president of the board, voted against the lights, noting that a past school board had pledged to the Collums that there would never be permanent lighting on the field.

“I would love to at least look into another location,” Mr. Foster said, adding later that “there is one person who lives next to a school that didn’t build next to a school, and that is Mr. Collum.”

Ed Collum is a former East Hampton math teacher himself. “I was promised years ago that there would never be lights,” he confirmed on Tuesday. “The promise was from the board.”

Adam Fine, the district superintendent, said the cost to run the lights is about 16 cents per kilowatt hour, or about $8.80 per hour, not including peak-demand charges, which would come out of the district’s general utilities budget. The lights would have a 25-year warranty, covering most maintenance needs outside of vandalism and extreme weather, “which would most likely be covered by insurance,” Mr. Fine said.

Sam Schneider, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, said it would need to conduct an environmental review of the plan in the coming months. Mr. Fine said it would also be subject to approval by the State Education Department.

Mr. Edwards said he expects the parent group will need to raise as much as $850,000 for the lights. As a Montauk Skate Park board member, he helped raise nearly double that amount for its renovation, from public, private, and community sources. The Bonac Booster Club will receive donations for the lights, making the contributions tax-deductible.

“Now, with the approval of the Board of Education, we’re going to approach multiple people, corporations, and families to see how we can get it done quickly,” Mr. Edwards said. “If we can take some private funds and work with the public, it tends to work best that way, the skate park being an example.”


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