A memorandum of agreement between the WW-P Board of Education and the WW-P High School South Booster Club for handling the installation of athletic field lights at both of the district’s high schools was approved on December 14.
The drafted memorandum of agreement places all of the responsibility for installing the lights — from obtaining any necessary zoning approvals to financing the football field lights — in the hands of the Booster Club.
Since the idea was first discussed last year, district officials have maintained that the district would not spend any of its own money on the installation of the field lights.
The agreement protects the school district against any charges — even for utility costs — with regard to use of the lights.
The proposed agreement grants the Booster Club the permission to enter school property to install the “improvements,” which consist of “a four-pole lighting system designed to illuminate two football fields (approximately 360 feet by 160 feet at each school) with 50 foot candles.” According to the proposed agreement, the installation would take place in 2012.
The Booster Club would be responsible for independently financing, carrying out, and installing the improvements, including obtaining any loans and hiring any professionals or contractors to install the lights.
Local residents Pat Boyle and Manny Efstathios, who have represented the Booster Club, told the board at prior meetings that the installation of the lights would cost between $240,000 and $260,000 using energy-efficient lighting with a 25-year guarantee. The two residents, who first introduced the idea to the school district two summers ago, said they would raise the money through fundraising events and donations.
The agreement also states that if the Booster Club is unable to raise sufficient funds to install the lights within two years, the board will terminate the agreement.
The school board does play some role in the light installation: approving the plans, specifications, and design of the field lights. The scheduling of work for the project will also be subject to approval by the superintendent.
Once the project is completed, the board will retain the exclusive right to determine the usage of the completed project, the proposed agreement states.
The agreement also states that following the installation, the Booster Club will be responsible for utility costs attributable to the use of the lights. Every school year, the board and the Booster Club will meet to estimate the cost of the usage for that school year, and the Booster Club will be required to advance those costs to the district before the school year begins.
Despite initial controversy over the field lights, the approval came with hardly any comment and amid low attendance by residents.
Resident Pete Weale, however, told the board about his history in trying to bring lights to the athletic fields at High School North eight years ago.
He was able to raise the money to cover the costs from commercial parties and even negotiated with the vendor to sell the lights for as little as $80,000. He also able to get Lucas Electric to agree to install the lights for $20,000.
He brought his files associated with his efforts to the meeting and said he would finally be getting rid of them. “It represents a long effort to try to improve my community,” he said.
Weale said he came to the meeting to neither support nor oppose the field lights measure. “The field light issue for Pete Weale has sailed into the sunset,” he said. However the board decides on the matter is “out of my hands, and I trust that you’re making the right decision.”
“It is true that Pete did put a lot of work into getting the lights,” acknowledged Board Vice President Robert Johnson, who said Weale came to the board at “the wrong time.”
At the time, “the board wasn’t going to vote on anything that was going to jeopardize the [approval of] turf athletic fields,” he said.
Board member Todd Hochman said he felt the current agreement “adequately protects the board.”
“These field lights will allow parents to watch games or portions of games they otherwise couldn’t,” he said. “This booster club is doing a wonderful thing” in providing lights and utility costs associated with them, he added.
“I’m very pleased to be able to cast my vote in favor of this,” Hochman said.
Board member Alapakkam Manikandan, however, still had qualms about the protection provided under the agreement to the district that in the future, it will not have to pay for any unanticipated costs associated with the lights. “I want to be clarified in voting for this MOU that the board does not intend to spend anything ever” toward the lights, including maintenance, he said.
If there were any problems with the warranties on the lights or unexpected costs, or in the event that the booster club ceases to exist, “we wouldn’t use the lights,” said Johnson.
“We do reserve the right to curtail the use of the lights on the fields if they don’t have enough money to sustain them,” said Board Member Ellen Walsh.