OLD SAYBROOK — Illuminated playing fields are no longer prohibited in Old Saybrook after February 18.
If granted a special exception, lights up to 80 feet high could be erected on any property greater than 11 acres, owned by the town or Fire Company #1 and located in a Residence A or Industrial I district.
Although no project has officially been proposed, this change could allow for lights to be built surrounding the Old Saybrook High School football field.
“We certainly think there would be benefits [to adding lighting] for our students and, we hope, for the community,” said Old Saybrook Superintendent Jan Perruccio. “It would be a great place to gather to support our student-athletes on a lovely fall or spring evening. It would also make the scheduling of games easier as it would open additional time slots for our teams.”
First Selectman Carl Fortuna said that Mike Mahoney, of Henderson Engineers, is currently completing a survey of the football field to determine exactly where the lights should be placed and if there would be any spillage or glare on to neighboring properties.
“We are going to gather our forces and take a really hard look at this. Right now, we are in the preliminary steps before this is an approved use at the football field,” Fortuna said. “We would like to do this at the football field, but we need to see what the impacts will be.”
Since the potential project was announced, the Zoning Enforcement Officer of Old Saybrook has received 84 letters in support of the change, according to the Zoning Commission minutes from February 3.
For coaches and athletes at Old Saybrook high school, the addition of lights to the sports complex would make a substantial difference to their ability to practice and compete. Peter Capezzone, the boys and girls track and cross country coach for almost 30 years, said lights would have a significant impact on the annual Old Saybrook Runnin’ Rams Track and Field Invitational meet which the school has hosted for 23 years with more than 2,000 athletes in attendance.
“Last year, we elected to run the meet on a Friday due to the many years of conflicts with proms on the spring weekends. As the meet moved along into its latter stages, it became evident that we may not finish the meet in its entirety. In fact, in the second to last event on the track, the girls 3200m run, many athletes lined the straightaways with cell phones lit to ensure a lighted passage for the runners. It was truly a sight to see,” Capezzone said. “However, when the final event came along, the 1600m relay, at roughly 8:35pm, it was pitch dark and we had to conclude the meet. We were unable to allow the already warmed up teams of boys and girls a chance to run. With lights on our athletic complex, we will be able to avoid such shortcomings such as having to end a meet or game early. The lights don’t need to be on for a long or extended period of time and shouldn’t be. However, having the use of lights will enable all our teams the opportunity to gain a fruitful experience.”
According to Capezzone, a lit field would also allow more parents, relatives, friends and community members to come and support the student athletes throughout the three seasons.
Other residents, including neighbors of the athletic complex, voiced concerns of noise, traffic, lights shining into their homes and lower property values, according to the minutes.
Before the project can officially be proposed, Fortuna said, residents – potentially led by the Ram Boosters club – will need to raise more than $300,000.
“There is going to have to be a significant amount of community fundraising for this project. The town would not just be able to upfront and do the project,” Fortuna said. “I’m not sure what kind of support it would have, but I hope that if there is support it would allow for kids to practice more and experience playing under the lights.”