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Norwich - There could be permanent lights at the Norwich Free Academy athletic field by the start of the 2014-15 school year.
The NFA board of trustees Tuesday unanimously approved spending $430,107 to hire Musco Sports Lighting of Iowa to install four 70-foot high poles around the athletic field to allow night football, soccer, field hockey and lacrosse games and practices and band practices and events.
The project next will be presented to neighbors later this week and then to Norwich Public Utilities before formal plans are submitted to the city Commission on the City Plan for approval.
Board Chairman Theodore Phillips said the school owes it to NFA athletes, the band and neighbors surrounding the school to do the project.
NFA Head of School David Klein called it the first phase in a planned upgrade to the athletic facilities. He said he hopes to have plans and a model for new bleachers, a press box, outdoor bathrooms and a field "legacy" area to honor outstanding athletes.
The future phase would be funded through a new capital campaign, while the approved lighting plan will be funded immediately through the school's facilities and maintenance account.
Andrew Dyjak, representing Musco Sports Lighting, presented detailed descriptions of the lighting equipment and technology to the board of trustees Tuesday. Dyjak said lighting technology has improved efficiencies by 80 percent over the past 30 years, reducing "spill light" to surrounding properties while also improving energy efficiency by 50 percent.
NFA officials met with about a dozen neighbors on March 4 and will hold a second neighborhood meeting later this week, Klein said.
Dyjak, who attended the March 4 meeting, said his company is affiliated with the International Dark-Sky Association, which promotes reducing nighttime light pollution.
The system would be guaranteed for 25 years and the plan would include additional lights in response to neighbors' concerns expressed at the March 4 meeting.
Dyjak said residents complained that existing nighttime security lights on the school gymnasium shine into the neighborhood. Musco would replace those lights with four poles with energy efficient lights directed toward the campus. The lights would come on at dusk and shut off at dawn.
NFA facilities manager and electrician Harry Hansen called the plan to replace the building lights "a golden opportunity" to get rid of archaic lighting on the buildings and replace them with new technology and get uniform lighting on campus for security.
A second area of concern to neighbors was the grassy area near the athletic field where fans and students congregate during night games. Because the field lights would be directed only onto the playing surface, this would be a dark area. Musco's plan would install three light poles.
Hansen said the project could be done this summer and be done by the time school opens in late August. Klein added that pending approval by the Norwich Commission on the City Plan, the project could begin the day after graduation.
Klein said NFA officials told neighbors that except for the three or four football games and the annual NFA Band Classic, the lights would be off by 9 p.m. On football nights and for the band event, lights would be off by 9:30 p.m.