(Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photo)
(Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photo)
Friday February 15, 2013

WESTMINSTER - The Bellows Falls Union High School Board voted Thursday to authorize School Superintendent Chris Kibbe to file a notice of appeal with the state's environmental court regarding donated lights at the school's athletic fields.

In addition, School Board member Stephen Fine, who represents Athens, wants to know if someone should be sued for what has unfolded, because it appears what was supposed to be a free gift might wind up costing a substantial amount of money. He elaborated by saying putting shields on the lights to reduce their glare could cost up to $15,000. Fine said the investigation will look into the matter of a lawsuit.

Board member Dan Axtell, who represents Westminster, said he does not want to get into a fight with the town over this issue.

"I feel the high school is not in a hurry to have these lights. I think we should not get into a legal battle (with Westminster)," he said, adding that if the board decides to pursue that option it should choose the least expensive way to do it.

Axtell was the only member of the board to vote against authorizing Kibbe to file a notice of appeal. The deadline to do so is Monday, Feb. 18, and Kibbe said he will file the notice today.

The lights -- made possible by the financial holdings of the late Alvin Southwick -- have been a source of controversy after it was realized that Techline, the Texas-based contractor hired to install them, did not make sure all necessary permits were in order before the project began. This information came to light in December, when the Westminster Development Review Board cited a deviation as cause to revoke a town-issued permit after one resident complained about the glare. It appears the one permit received was not enough for the project.

When his health started to drastically decline, Southwick, who died in August 2011, asked long-time friend Frederick Yates to help him put together his final will and testament. Yates, who had known Southwick for more than 50 years, agreed and as a result BFUHS eventually became one of about a dozen entities to benefit from Southwick's gift and was soon equipped with lights for the first time in school history.

Yates, the executor of Southwick's financial holdings, said he followed proper procedures and requested a permit from the town's DRB to install lights at the baseball and football facilities at Hadley Field. But Westminster Zoning Administrator Bill Jewell previously told the Reformer that though only one permit is needed from the town, others are necessary from the state level.

During the time for public comments, resident Katie Dearborn wanted to know how comfortable the board members are with what has transpired since the initial complaint was made and asked if they have all been through the DRB's findings in their entirety. She also asked why the permit was revoked, but Board Chairman David Clark told her those questions were not germane to the discussion at hand.

The school is right now unaffected by the situation involving the lights, as the basketball and wrestling teams compete only indoors.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. Follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.