The debate over lights on Memorial Field

Updated 1/23/2012 3:07 PM
  • The Glen Ellyn village board will discuss a proposal from Glenbard High School District 87 to install lights at Memorial Field, across from Glenbard West High School.

      The Glen Ellyn village board will discuss a proposal from Glenbard High School District 87 to install lights at Memorial Field, across from Glenbard West High School. Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

The long-running battle over a proposal to install lights at a Glenbard West High School practice field appears to be entering the home stretch in Glen Ellyn.

Glenbard High School District 87 officials, with the support of many students and athletic boosters, maintain that the installation of six light poles at Memorial Field on Crescent Boulevard would allow for increased usage of the field at the landlocked school.

But many neighbors have argued that the lights would lead to increased traffic and noise, and alter the character of their neighborhood.

Now, a little more than a year after Glenbard administrators introduced the lights proposal before the school board, the Glen Ellyn village board will take up the issue for the first time tonight, Monday, Jan. 23.

The District 87 school board voted 5-2 in April to send an application to the village requesting variances for the lights. At the conclusion of 11 meetings over the course of four months, the Glen Ellyn plan commission voted 6-3 in December to recommend approval of the light variances.

The village board will begin discussion of the proposal tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the board room at village hall, 535 Duane St. Village officials say the board is expected to take a vote at next week's meeting on Jan. 30.

Already, three of six trustees have told the Daily Herald they are leaning toward voting in favor of the lights. Village President Mark Pfefferman would cast the potential tiebreaking vote.

The Daily Herald asked both sides to present their side of the debate. Writing in support of the lights is Chris McCain, District 87's assistant superintendent for business services. In opposition to the lights is resident Kirk Burger, representing the citizens advocacy group Our Field Our Town.

Pro: Lights would increase opportunities for athletes, students

By Chris McClain, Glenbard High School District 87

Glenbard West High School has used Memorial Field for extracurricular and physical education programs for decades.

Glenbard District 87 purchased Memorial Field from the Glen Ellyn Park District and received a special-use permit from the village of Glen Ellyn in 2000. Future lights were contemplated in the special-use permit, subject to the approval of a variance.

In summer 2010, we installed synthetic turf at Memorial Field. The Glenbard West Boosters, Capital Campaign Committee, Glen Ellyn Park District and Glenbard High School District 87 collaboratively funded this project.

The synthetic turf has provided a safer, more reliable outdoor instructional space that increases usage opportunities for physical education, extracurriculars and park district programs.

We submitted a variance request to the village to provide for increased use of Memorial Field, as well as improved access to the field. The variances are for the following site improvements:

• Field lighting, which includes six light poles (two 60-foot poles and four 70-foot poles) with shielded light fixtures

• Third base sideline sidewalk/ramp

• North side bleachers with improved handicap accessibility (bleacher capacity of 240)

• Masonry fence along the north side of the field

• Batting cage renovations

These enhancements are important because we believe that Glenbard West is not adequately meeting students' extracurricular needs. Specifically:

• Glenbard West has limited field space -- only 5.8 acres compared to 15-plus acres at other Glenbard schools

• All other Glenbard schools and all schools in Glenbard West's conference have lights

• Glenbard West's stadium field, Duchon Field, is a natural grass field that lies in a floodplain, providing for very limited use.

Approval of the variance application would mean that more practices and games could be played on campus, reducing the need and cost to bus students off campus for activities.

During plan commission hearings, the Glen Ellyn police chief said lights would not create a safety problem, and the village's light expert stated the lights would not negatively impact neighbors. Lights would be funded 100 percent by donations.

We held a community forum on this request, have held multiple board of education meetings and have participated in Glen Ellyn plan commission meetings -- a total of more than 18 meetings to date.

We have been open and transparent throughout this process. We also responded to residents' concerns and adjusted our usage request to the plan commission, based on community feedback, as follows:

• No third-party rentals (for light use)

• No summer light use (June 1-Aug. 14)

• No weekend light use

• No winter light use

• No morning light use prior to school

• No light use after 9 p.m.

• Create an advisory group consisting of Glenbard West administration, a village representative and neighbors to review the use of lights

We appreciate the plan commission's diligent, careful consideration of the variance application and the commission's recommendation for approval of the variances. We look forward to the village board's review of our application and are hopeful for a positive vote.

Our overall objective with this project is to serve the educational and extracurricular needs of our students with increased use of Memorial Field.

Con: Lights would damage neighborhood's character

By Kirk Burger, Our Field Our Town

Our Field Our Town opposes lights at Memorial Field based upon continuing concerns over safety, traffic, noise, congestion and light pollution, as well as the potential impact on property values and the aesthetic assault on the gracious "gateway" to Glen Ellyn.

The massive scope of the 11 variances to village code being requested by Glenbard High School District 87 only serves to illustrate the unsuitability of the plan vis--vis the site, and indelibly punctuate OFOT's position that placing any more demand upon Memorial Field is akin to squeezing 10 pounds of potatoes into the proverbial five-pound sack.

The confines of this "point-counterpoint" do not allow for a detailed replay of events and dialogue that have spanned the past year, but, suffice it to say, that after four months and 11 meetings of hearing testimony before the Glen Ellyn Plan Commission, District 87 has failed to make a compelling case for its basic objective: hardship.

By the district's own admission, Glenbard West is currently able to meet its curricular and extracurricular needs -- in fact, offering more sports programs than any of its three sister schools. The fact that some student athletes "endure" three- to five-minute short bus rides to after-school practice fields hardly rises to the threshold of hardship.

Busing would not be eliminated by the installation of lights at Memorial Field, and yet it remains at the core of District 87's argument.

If this matter were simply subjected to an unbiased, objective interpretation of the charge before village authorities, it would have been rejected by the plan commission with little fanfare.

Since it was not, the discussion unfortunately raises the specter of complicity among governmental entities, and social pressures that influence, even cloud, the decision making of our elected representatives.

Unconvincing deliberation and a hurried 6-3 vote by the plan commission on Dec. 20 did little to dispel that notion.

And now, prior to appearing before the village board for final consideration and vote -- before being returned to the District 87 board for approval -- three trustees have prematurely expressed their support (and bias) in the press, adding to the growing sense of a fait accompli.

To contest the shadow of backroom maneuvering, OFOT believes that residents should be polled and trustees guided by a true pulse of the community. Over the past several months, OFOT members devoted considerable effort and collected the appropriate number of signatures to place an advisory referendum before voters on March 20.

One would have every hope -- even expectation -- that elected officials who represent us would coalesce behind, even endorse, such positive citizen activism before deciding a matter with these far-reaching consequences to Glen Ellyn's quality of life.

And yet, that optimism has been diminished as the village board rushes to vote on Jan. 30 -- two months before voters and taxpayers weigh in.

The trustees are apparently not interested in what their constituents have to say, as evidenced by their reluctance to slow down the process. In trivializing the voice of the voters, the village board would seem to corroborate that these matters are "done deals," and deliberations nothing more than window dressing.

  • This article filed under:
  • News
Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.