Those who took part on Wellesley’s Playing Fields Task Force Light Subcommittee have been getting increasingly frustrated over what they see as inaction on a thorough report (embedded below) that the group produced well over a year ago about lighting at the town’s playing fields, including the high school stadium. Task Force member Laurance Stuntz, during the citizen speak portion at the start of the Oct. 22 Natural Resources Commission (NRC) meeting, urged the NRC to speed up the process and offered to help in any way he could.
The NRC says it has been taking plenty of steps to move forward on this issue, though really brought it back into the spotlight at its Jan. 22 meeting. The NRC had hoped to get Wellesley school officials to take part, but the timing didn’t work out, so it forged ahead with a discussion anyway that lasted more than an hour and a half (you can view it on the Wellesley Media recording of the meeting, beginning at about the 45-minute mark).
NRC Chair Raina McManus shared background on the topic of field lighting in Wellesley, including its request for information on the subject from the Playing Fields Task Force after hearing interest from residents in spring of 2019 about adding lights to the stadium (even though big field projects at Sprague and at the stadium were completed with assurances there would be no lights). The Task Force presented its findings to the NRC in late 2019 and community members weighed in, both pro and con, on issues ranging from field usage to the environment to expanding options for the community to gather, such as at night games.
“It’s fair to say that the subcommittee members and community. members did a lot of great work, but no consensus was reached,” McManus said, noting that the NRC issued a press release about the matter in January of 2020 titled “NRC to Seek Consensus on Lighting Hunnewell Track and Field.”
The NRC, which says its mission is to protect the town’s natural resources as well as support passive and active recreation, has continued to gather community feedback. It has also met with Wellesley High Athletic Director John Brown, contracted with a lighting consultant, explored funding options, and included a $400,000 capital request for lighting replacement in its 5-year capital plan. NRC commissioners established consideration of Hunnewell Field lighting as one of their 2021 goals.
While School Committee and School Department officials couldn’t attend the Jan. 22 meeting, the School Committee did give the NRC an update. It confirmed that its top priority at the high school stadium remains completion of team rooms and bathrooms, with a press box and lighting next on the list.
During discussion on the topic among NRC members, Laura Robert raised the issue that the introduction of new lights on playing fields represents “a real culture change,” and deserves to be. part of a broader public discussion. Katie Griffith agreed, and said even though bathrooms and team rooms are the school system’s priorities for the stadium, there’s no reason that a wider discussion can’t start now. As it is now, she said, “we’re blocked.”
NRC member Jay McHale took it up a notch toward the end of the meeting: “I think everybody’s frustration… is that the town does not have a guide for how to get things done.”
During citizen speak, a handful of residents spoke in favor or against additional field lighting.
One proponent said there’s huge support for lights in town and that such a project could get done by the fall if the town were to take advantage of private funding offers. Among his arguments for lights were that all of the schools Wellesley competes against in outdoor sports have field lights, young athletes are put in harm’s way by going full speed in dim lighting, and that lights could help attract more college scouts to town to recruit student-athletes.
“This is a safety issue, it’s a community building issue, and it’s a capacity issue. There is a broad consensus on a desire to have lights here,” resident Jim Miller said.
Neighbors ticked off a list of reasons not to add new lights, arguing that more events would mean more traffic in an already congested area, and appealing to the NRC’s environmental sensibilities by citing the impact new lights would have on everything from wildlife to energy usage and costs. They suggested that dropping school enrollment would lessen the scramble for available fields.
“The current neighborhood in the evening is a quiet, calm, and serene environment. The additional of lights will make it a loud, brash, and dirty one. It changes the character completely,” said resident Cliff Canaday.
Wrapping up the discussion, NRC members said school officials ultimately need to take the lead. Though they said the NRC plans to be a key partner if new lighting turns out to be a priority.