Eighteen months after Glenbard High School District 87 officials proposed illuminating Memorial Field in Glen Ellyn for night use, the lights are finally on.
Six light towers now stand above the Glenbard West practice field on Crescent Boulevard and Monday evening marked the first time officials flipped the switch.
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The lights stayed on past 9 p.m. -- the required shut-off time per ordinance -- but village officials authorized the longer test so there could be sufficient darkness to provide accurate results, village and school officials said.
Glenbard contractor Musco Lighting was measuring the foot-candle output of the lights to make sure the system works and complies with village code. But as their testing was going on, it just so happened the Glenbard West marching band decided to practice on the field for the first time under the lights.
It's poetic justice for supporters of the lights, who argued they were necessary to increase use of the field and keep more students on campus for extracurricular activities (although Glenbard officials said Tuesday the band was only supposed to be on Memorial Field through dusk; Monday night was intended only for lights testing.)
The tests are expected to continue this week, and adjustments in the foot-candle levels or direction of the light beams will be made as necessary to make sure the system is compliant with the village ordinance, said Chris McClain, the district's assistant superintendent for business services.
The lights, since they were proposed in January 2011, have been a lightning rod of controversy in and around the Glen Ellyn neighborhood in proximity to Memorial Field, where houses now sit just feet from the four 70-foot-tall and two 60-foot-tall light poles.
Residents organized a group called Our Field Our Town to oppose the school district's plan, arguing the lights would disrupt the character of the neighborhood and create noise and safety problems.
After 11 meetings of the village plan commission and two meetings of the village board, village trustees unanimously approved zoning variances for Glenbard's lights project, as well as still-to-come fencing, an ornamental gate, a batting cage, a sidewalk and bleachers.
The village approvals also came with the requirement that the school district set up an advisory committee to discuss any issues that may arise from use of the field and the lights. The committee is comprised of nearby Glen Ellyn residents Gina Meyers, Jim Siebert and Pat Brugh, Glenbard West Principal Jane Thorsen, Assistant Principal for Athletics Joe Kain, Glenbard Community Relations Coordinator Peg Mannion, Glen Ellyn police Chief Phil Norton and Glen Ellyn Planning and Development Director Staci Hulseberg.
The three residents on the committee were selected by new Glenbard Superintendent Dave Larson out of a total of nine people who applied.
The group's first meeting is set for 6 p.m. Thursday in the Glenbard West library.
On Monday, school board President Rich Heim asked Mannion to keep the district's website up-to-date with a field use schedule indicating when the lights will be on.
Also this week, Glenbard officials revealed plans for landscaping Memorial Field and the nearby park area -- to be fully funded, they say, through private donations.
The project is being spearheaded by Ron Aubrey, a Glen Ellyn Park District commissioner, who is donating $10,000 to the project. The citizens committee that raised funds to pay for the lights at Memorial -- and has money leftover -- has agreed to match Aubrey's contribution.
The plan calls for the addition of pine trees to soften the effects of lights on neighbors to the south and southwest, as well as low maintenance plants near the Soldiers Pathway.
A phase two plan includes removal of invasive plant species on the south side of the property, but that project wouldn't happen until additional funding is secured, officials said.
"We really want to make it more of like a parklike atmosphere, where you can bring a picnic lunch, and make it the scenic place it is," Thorsen said during the school district's finance and facility committee meeting Monday.
That doesn't mean the gate to the park will be open all the time, Thorsen said, since it's an asset that could be vandalized.
Margaret DeLaRosa, a Glen Ellyn resident and committee member, noted that Duchon Field and the surrounding track is open to the public.
"I'd like to see it be accessible because it is a community asset. I hope it wouldn't become an issue of vandalism," DeLaRosa said.
If the school board approves the project, work could occur in October.