Spaulding football field moves forward on lightsProvided Image
A computer rendition shows the Spaulding High School athletic fields and lights after all phases of the project are complete.
BARRE — When it comes to a game plan for lighting the football field at Spaulding High School, it’s now first down and goal to go.
Plans to accommodate a Granite City edition of “Friday Night Lights” got a Thursday night boost from a shorthanded development review board last week and Spaulding supporters are now just $90,000 away from being able to host night games at A.G. Pendo Memorial Field.
It took the affirmative votes of all five members who were able to make the meeting, but School Director Giuliano Cecchinelli said the review board’s approval clears the way for a formal “kickoff” to a capital campaign that will be needed to raise money to help pay for a long-discussed lighting project.
The clock is already ticking.
Last year city councilors agreed to earmark $90,000 of the money that former Barre businessman Charlie Semprebon left the city following his death in 2009 to cover half of the estimated cost of lighting the football field at Spaulding. The council’s only caveat was that supporters of the project match that money by July 1.
Cecchinelli, who serves as chairman of the facilities committee at Spaulding, said he received several pledges of support in the wake of the council’s offer, but believed securing the review board’s approval was important before mounting a more formal fund drive.
“This is the initial first step,” he told board members who inquired about the status of the fundraising effort for the lighting project before approving the first two phases of a comprehensive master plan to enhance and eventually expand the athletic fields at Spaulding.
According to Cecchinelli, the board’s approval legitimized the project and should give prospective donors a comfort level that the only thing standing in the way of playing night games at Spaulding this fall is the need to raise the rest of the money for the lights.
“It would be very difficult for us to go out, raise the money, and then be denied the permit,” he said.
That didn’t happen.
Although Chairman Ulysse “Pete” Fournier lightly quizzed Spaulding facilities director Jamie Evans and Jeff Tucker, of DuBois & King Inc., about the site plan, and questioned whether night games could run afoul of the city’s nighttime noise ordinance, board members unanimously approved the first two components of the three-phase master plan.
Lighting the football field is phase one, and Evans said the idea has been kicked around since the high school moved from the Washington Street structure that’s now home to the Vermont History Center to its current Ayers Street location in 1964.
“This has been talked about ever since the school was built and people are so happy with the thought of having Friday night games,” said Evans, who noted at one time officials briefly flirted with the idea of creating a football field on the infield at Thunder Road International Speedbowl in order to take advantage of the race track’s lights.
Tucker said the state-of-the-art lights that would be installed on four poles — three 70 feet tall and a fourth one 80 feet tall — should not be a nuisance to residents who live nearby.
Although Evans said school officials didn’t want to close the door on occasionally using the field at night for special events, it would primarily be used by the school’s football, soccer and lacrosse teams. There are no plans for weekend use, and most games would be over by 9 p.m. Evans said some varsity football could go as late as 11 p.m.
The field would be most heavily used at night from mid-August to late October. Use of the lights would be minimal over the winter, would pick back up for lacrosse season in April and May, and — barring a special event — would be nonexistent in June and July.
That information seemed to satisfy the board, which approved the site plan for the lighting project, as well as a second component of the master plan that involves installing artificial turf on the football field and replacing the gravel track that now runs around the perimeter of the field with a slightly larger rubberized track.
School officials haven’t identified a funding source for the second phase, and Evans said 2014 was probably an optimistic estimate of when that work might be considered. The second phase also includes construction of a new concession stand, as well as a portion of a new gravel track that would eventually run around the perimeter of all the athletic fields at Spaulding.
Board members weren’t asked to approve the third phase of the project, which involves a radical realignment of the baseball and softball fields, lighting the baseball field, and installing a new soccer field.
For now, Cecchinelli said he is focused on lighting the football field. After receiving the board’s approval during its monthly meeting in City Hall, Cecchinelli went next door to the Blanchard Block to measure the showroom for a display that will soon be installed there promoting the fundraising efforts and featuring renderings of a master plan that has been in the works for years.
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