Schools - September 8, 2010

Temporary lights for M-A sports OK'd

by Dave Boyce

Let there be light, said the governing board of the Sequoia Union High School District, and, within certain limits, there will now be lights for a maximum of four night football games per season at Menlo-Atherton High School, where darkness has prevailed for some 59 years.

In a unanimous vote, the five-member board agreed on Sept. 1 to proceed with the installation of temporary light towers at M-A's Coach Parks Field and agreed to a plan that would also allow up to six evening soccer games and six evening lacrosse games per season.

The lights must be out by 10:30 p.m. for the football games, and only the football games can use a public address system. The soccer and lacrosse games can have lights until 8:30 p.m. and cannot play on weekends, with these same restrictions applying to other activities such as evening practices.

The change is in line with the school's new schedule that has students starting the day about an hour later. Research shows that teens need more sleep and the district has encouraged schools to change their schedules accordingly.

M-A athletes have also had to sacrifice class time to play afternoon games. Should the lights not go in, "it might be hard to put as many girls on the field," M-A girls soccer coach Paul Snow told the board before its vote.

Eight people from the audience spoke, including M-A parents, athletic coaches and teachers, all in support of the lights.

While no one spoke in opposition, a group of Atherton residents have sued the district, alleging failure to comply with state regulations on environmental impacts and local regulations on athletic-field lighting, heights of structures and noise limits.

The state permits school districts to exempt themselves from local zoning ordinances for projects such as this one. The board voted on such a resolution and it passed unanimously.

The temporary lights are a placeholder while the Sequoia district studies the impact of permanent lights with respect to Atherton neighbors' concerns, including parking, safety, artificial light and noise.

The board seemed agreeable to a suggestion by board member Lorraine Rumley that the district open a line of communication with neighbors and providing a point person for complaints.

The school needs to be a good neighbor, M-A boys lacrosse coach Steven Kryger said, but "we want to give the community a chance to come together and support our student athletes as a whole."

An experimental night game in November drew a large and enthusiastic crowd and much higher gate and snack-bar receipts.

The process leading up to temporary lights, said board member Chris Thomsen, has been "a thoughtful community effort to try to work with the neighbors."

"I think it's pretty clear," added board member Alan Sarver, "that the firm voice of opposition is encapsulated within the lawsuit."


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