With word that $325,000 has been raised to fund the installation of lights at Memorial Field in Glen Ellyn, the Glenbard High School District 87 board formally approved the long-awaited, yet controversial project Monday.
On a 5-2 vote, the board authorized the district to put the project out to bid -- a significant step in an ongoing process that began when district administrators proposed lighting the Glenbard West field in January 2011.
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The formal approval comes a year to the date after the school board authorized sending a zoning variance application to the village requesting approvals for the four 70-foot-tall and two 60-foot-tall light poles, as well as fencing, an ornamental gate, a batting cage, a sidewalk and bleachers.
"We've been working this one for a bit of time," said Chris McClain, Glenbard's assistant superintendent for business services, who served as the district's project point man through the course of 11 meetings of the village plan commission and two meetings of the village board.
District officials have said the addition of lights would increase use of the field and help keep more students on campus for extracurricular activities. But a vocal group of residents who organized a citizens group called Our Field Our Town argued that the lights would disrupt the character of the neighborhood and create noise and safety problems.
The group successfully got enough signatures to place an advisory referendum on the March primary ballot asking Glen Ellyn voters to weigh in on the issue. In the end, 54 percent of ballots were cast in favor of the lights.
The contention over lights in Glen Ellyn is perhaps one reason the school district is establishing a Memorial Field lights advisory committee made up of representatives from the school district, village and community.
Glenbard board member Mary Ozog, a vocal lights opponent and member of Our Field Our Town, said Monday she'd like to see the committee in place by Sept. 1, and for quarterly meetings to take place in the first 18 to 24 months of the lights being used. She also suggested the school board adopt, as part of its policies, the same restrictions on light usage imposed by the village, including a required shut-off time of 9 p.m. and no usage on the weekends or during the summer.
She noted that the village could easily change those restrictions.
"I think the neighbors have a right to be able to use their yards with some peace and quiet in the non-use months and to have a reasonable shut-off hour," said Ozog, who lives near the field.
Also voting with Ozog against the lights project was board member Tom Voltaggio, a Glen Ellyn resident.
In December, the village's plan commission voted 6-3 to endorse the project, and the village board voted 6-0 a month later to grant the variances.
Since then, boosters and pro-lights supporters have been raising funds for the project, trying to have all $325,000 raised by Monday's board meeting. District officials have said the entire project would have to be funded through private dollars, and that it wouldn't move forward without the money being in the bank.
On Monday, McClain announced that there were 340 unique donors, including an anonymous donor who gave $100,000.
After project bids come in, district officials are aiming to have a contractor chosen by July, and have the project be complete by the end of August.