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East Longmeadow finally settles lighting dilemma

Date: 2/6/2012

Feb. 6, 2012

By Chris Maza

EAST LONGMEADOW — Let there be lights.

At a Feb. 1 Special Town Meeting, thunderous applause followed an overwhelming vote in favor of the lone warrant article, which asked the town to spend $115,000 from free cash to retrofit the renovated athletic field and track at East Longmeadow High School with an updated lighting system.

“I’m happy for the students of East Longmeadow,” said School Committee member Joseph Cabrera, who brought forth the petition for the meeting and the article as a private citizen after collecting 500 signatures. “That’s what it’s all about and I feel bad for the seniors that didn’t get to play football under the lights and it’s too bad that we lost so much revenue, but I feel very confident that this is a good start for us to move on.”

The field lighting issue, which has been a contentious one for months, brought nearly 400 voting residents to the East Longmeadow High School auditorium for the meeting, which heard only a spattering of negative votes.

“I think there’s been a lot of public outcry for this, [the residents] want it done. They want a resolution and I’m glad it went this way,” Cabrera said. “The last Special Town Meeting we had, there were 132 people here. I don’t know what the count is, but it’s a heck of a lot more than 132 people. I’m glad the people came out to support their children.”

The article was unanimously recommended by the Appropriations Committee, the Capital Planning Committee and the School Committee. Selectmen Paul Federici and Jack Villamaino also endorsed the lighting project.

The lighting issue garnered widespread attention when the East Longmeadow High School football team was forced to reschedule all but one of its home games from Friday nights to Saturday afternoons.

Other sports, such as soccer, also were unable to play under the lights because a consultant from Masco Lighting told the school district that its lighting system failed to meet industry standards in terms of footcandles on the field.

The town voted down a Proposition 2 1/2 override for the athletic field overhaul that included the lighting, as well as eight other items at a June 28, 2011 Special Town Election. Wishing to push the project forward in spite of the loss, the School Committee used surplus funds that would have otherwise been returned to the town to fund the lined playing surface, the track, complete with a Plexitrac surface, new track and field equipment and the new fence while the boosters donated the cash to have the Spartans’ logo painted on the field.

The lighting was not funded, however, in order to make the improvements, the light towers had to be moved back, creating the issue of lack of adequate light.

While the industry standard for high school sports facilities is approximately 35 footcandles, Lighting on East Longmeadow’s field averages just 23.5 footcandles after a 72-point light test was conducted.

Cabrera, who also publicly criticized the School Committee’s methods in funding the improvements it made, has been on a mission to complete the lighting project as quickly as possible.

Making his pitch by going door-to-door and talking to residents at sporting events, he collected 500 signatures for his petition, 300 more than necessary to convene a Special Town Meeting.

“It shows that’s what the town wanted,” Cabrera said. “A lot of people were confused in the past and I explained to them about how we’re not borrowing money, we’re not lumping eight things. Let’s start with lights.”

Cabrera cited lost revenue as a reason to get the project done as soon as possible. He explained that projected revenue from the gate was $21,000, but with games, specifically football, being played during the day, $9,563 — 46 percent — of that projected total was lost. Eighty percent of projected revenue from concessions was also missed out on.

“[That money] goes to raise scholarships and [to the] boosters,” he said.

More importantly, he said, those numbers reflected the fact that the high school’s athletes were not having a chance to be adequately recognized.

“When I see seniors out there who for years have looked up to other players and been water boys since they were in third grade and they go out there and there’s nobody there, it’s sad,” he said.

According to Town Accountant Thomas Caliento, East Longmeadow has almost $3.2 million in available resources, which includes the town’s stabilization fund and free cash.

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