WESTMINSTER -- The Westminster Development Review Board included one condition in its decision to issue Bellows Falls Union High School the final zoning permit it needs for the Hadley Field lights.
Town Manager Russ Hodgkins said the DRB members insist on being allowed to visit the site within 15 days of the first event scheduled for the field and confirm all illumination measurements given in testimony and exhibits at a public hearing Monday night. He said the school must ride out a 30-day appeals period before turning the lights on.
The DRB's approval means BFUHS can research how to fund downward-facing visors and which company to task with installing them, though Principal Chris Hodsden said the school will wait to do so until the mandatory appeals period is finished.
"We got our permit approved and that keeps us moving in the right direction," Hodsden said.
The lights are the first in school history and students and parents have for at least a year and a half been looking forward to watching BFUHS football games under their illumination. A few hiccups have made it less likely a game will be played under the lights this season (the schedule has already been set) and Hodsden told the Reformer he is "not banking on having a night game this year," but added it is "not out of the question." He said the first home BFUHS home football game is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Aug. 30 against Brattleboro.
"I can guarantee you that won't be a night game," Hodsden said.
BFUHS home games have traditionally been played on Saturday afternoons, though the lights give the Terriers the opportunity to play in the same conditions of their professional heroes. Hodsden said it will be difficult to make it unscathed through the 30-day appeals period, raise the funds to purchase the necessary visors, hire a company to install them and allow DRB members to visit the site 15 days before the final scheduled home game. Though he told the Reformer "the biggest hurdle has been cleared," he said there are only four home games slated for this season.
Hodsden said he is confident the lights will, at the very least, be ready for baseball season.
The DRB's decision comes less than three months after the Vermont Natural Resources Board issued a land use (Act 250) permit to the Rockingham Town School District and the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union, authorizing the use of the stadium lights as long as most of them are equipped with downward-facing shields. According to the land use permit, there can be no change to the design, operation or use of the project and no further alteration or development on the land with a permit amendment. The lights can be used a maximum of 46 nights a year and must be turned off by 11 p.m. any night they are in use. They also cannot be mounted any higher than 70 feet off the ground. And all but two of them -- the ones that illuminate the outfield of the baseball field -- must be shielded with visors.
The lights were made possible by the financial holdings of longtime Westminster resident Alvin L. Southwick, who died in August 2011. Leading up to his death, Southwick asked longtime 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 became one of about a dozen entities to benefit from Southwick's gift and was soon equipped with stadium lights. But getting the lights on for a sporting event hasn't been as easy as Yates initially anticipated.
Westminster resident Ruth Gale complained in August 2012 the lights were so bright they were shining into her rear bedrooms and bugs were attracted to a deck of her house. Gale had written letters to the town In February and March 2012 to express her opposition to the lights because she said they could generate additional traffic during baseball games. She has told the Reformer she is the closest abutter to the lights, as her home is along the driveway leading up to BFUHS.
Gale's complaints started a domino effect, as the contractor hired for the installation job apparently failed to ensure all necessary permits were in place before installation. The single permit, which was revoked, issued by the Westminster DRB was not enough for the project -- the Act 250 permit was required. According to then-Town Manager Matt Daskal, DRB members revoked the zoning permit because they believed the light levels were in excess of what the permit allowed. They also were concerned about the lights' structural integrity and glare.
Last summer, the BFUHS Board of Directors decided to temporarily close Hadley Field when it learned Techline, Inc. -- the company that installed the lights -- could not guarantee the safety of the installation it made in the spring of 2012. But the board voted a week later to reopen Hadley after soil sample borings taken from the field indicated the installed poles hoisting the stadium lights did not pose a threat to anyone.
Hodgkins told the Reformer it is a relief that BFUHS has the final permit it needs, but mentioned snow and heavy rain can greatly alter the illumination measurement a quorum of DRB members will review 15 days before the first scheduled event under the Hadley Field lights.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.