Planners aim to illuminate Freeport track, field lighting needs

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FREEPORT — Nighttime site visits to athletic fields in Bath and Yarmouth on April 24 may give the town’s Planning Board a better idea of how bright the lights at Freeport High School’s new outdoor track and field should be.

And, how brightly the lights will shine on the field when the sun is down.

“Both schools are cooperating with us,” Regional School Unit 5 Superintendent Becky Foley said. “They’ll turn on their lights on the field so we can see.”

The site visits are open to the public. The Freeport visitors will go to Morse High School in Bath by 8:30 p.m. Then, the plan is to be at Yarmouth High School around 9:15 p.m. Depending on traffic and road conditions, those times could be approximate.

Nonetheless, the site visits will literally shine some light on safety and construction practices.

The lighting levels at Morse High School represent 30 foot candles. At Yarmouth High School, the lighting levels are of 50-foot candles. Best practices in high school football athletic stadium lighting construction standards changed in 1999, several years after Morse High School built, and lit, its fields.

When the Freeport track is built, the lights will shine down on the field. Midway along the light pole will be a ball tracker. The tracker’s purpose is to shine some light up so the course of a football can be followed if it sails between the light poles.

Professional football teams, such as at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, require 250 foot candles of light on the field. College athletes play night games on fields with 150-foot candles of light. High school football is getting faster and more competitive, along with the size of the athletes and their throwing arms.

“This is why we’re really asking for 50-foot candles,” Foley said.

The lights will be LED, or light emitting diodes, which will shine down in a more focused fashion, Foley and Michelle Lickteig, director of finance and human resources for RSU 5, explained.

Another type of lighting would have cast light on a wider area emanating from the light pole itself. But planners and administrators believed the LED lights would have less impact on residents who live in the densely populated area surrounding the high school.

“We’re trying to be sensitive to neighbors in the area,” Foley said.

All of this is new ground for the Freeport Planning Board, following the Jan. 10 voter-approved package to build the $4.3 million track and playing fields. For the first time, Freeport High School will be able to host meets. Soccer and lacrosse players also will use the new fields.

Night games, including football matches, will be a new feature, too.

As a result, the Planning Board is amending its zoning ordinances to govern lighting. Sections of the revised ordinance cover lighting for athletic fields in the village, not far from the high school on Holbrook Street. Noise regulation also is part of the revisions for athletic events continuing after 10 p.m.

A public hearing on the revised ordinances will be held by the Planning Board beginning at 6 p.m. May 3.

At a later date, the Town Council will review the revised ordinances and decide whether to approve them.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, a Freeport resident and gold medal winner of the first Olympic women’s marathon in 1984, has asked to have the Nike swoosh logo be included at the Freeport facility.

Placement of the swoosh featured into the RSU 5 Board of Directors April 12 meeting. Tri-Town Track Committee co-founder Fred Palmer asked that the swoosh be a part of the new track and field. Not on the field itself, more likely on a donor board commemorating the names of financial supporters for the project.

“This was a request from Joan, not from Nike,” Palmer said. “They’ve been extraordinarily generous to the town and to her. All of us would appreciate it if the School Board will vote to include it.”

There were a few objections on the board, as it reviewed its policy regarding corporate advertising on school property. The board did approve the request, though, subject to ongoing review.

Meanwhile, bids for field project work are eexpected to be opened April 20, Foley said. Five out of six companies bidding on the project remain in the running.

It took several years for RSU 5 voters to pass financial support for the project. Three times over the last decade the track proposal was presented to residents and failed to make it to the next step. The fourth time proved to be the charm.

Lisa D. Connell can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or Follow Lisa on Twitter: @connell_ld.

A rendering of RSU 5’s track and field Donor Wall, where the names of financial contributors to the project would be inscribed on commemorative bricks and stone.