Stadium lights at high schools get final approval

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The Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District Board of Trustees last week approved the installation of stadium lights.

Two years in the making, last week the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District Board of Trustees approved the installation of stadium lights and public address systems at both Los Altos and Mountain View high schools.

The decision comes after years of meetings and discussions between the district and those living in the neighborhoods surrounding the high schools, many of whom had raised concerns about the impact the lights and sound systems would have.

“Thank you so much to everybody involved,” Trustee Fiona Walter said at last week’s board meeting. “It’s been a very, very long road, and we appreciate everybody who’s come along with us.”

The board voted unanimously to certify the findings of an environmental impact report for the project at each campus, as well as to award a $1.85 million contract to General Lighting Service for the installation of the lights and sound systems.

Beyond construction and installation, the contract covers the cost of the lighting equipment itself. It doesn’t include the sound equipment, environmental impact reports, architect costs or construction management fees. The total cost, all inclusive, is roughly $3 million.

The district is paying for the project out of its building fund, which dates back to the sale of the old Mountain View High School on Castro Street decades ago. Over the years, the fund has been used and replenished multiple times, and currently has a balance of roughly $3.7 million.

Construction can begin in early September, once the final public notice period for the environmental impact reports is complete. The reports did not find that the projects had any significant and unavoidable environmental impacts. Those that were identified, such as construction dust, had accompanying mitigation measures.

The installation of the lights is expected to take only two months, with completion anticipated in early November, Associate Superintendent Mike Mathiesen said in an interview. The public address system could take a few weeks longer, he added.

The bigger question mark is around when teams will actually be able to play on the new, lighted fields. The coronavirus pandemic has delayed the start of sports for next school year until December or January and combined the typical three seasons into two.

Under the normal schedule, the lights and sound systems wouldn’t be ready until near the end of the fall sports season, but Mathiesen said one small silver lining of the pandemic-induced delay is that the project may now be complete before sports even begin. The lights will extend the hours the fields can be in use, allowing for practices and games after dark.

“There’s already a high demand for that field time,” Mathiesen said. “Now when you’ve compressed three seasons into two, there will be even more demands on time for that field, so it just gives some more flexibility.”

Road to get here

Last week’s project approval is the result of nearly two years of talks between the district and neighbors. Although both sides have now largely come together, that outcome didn’t always look certain.

In August 2018, a large crowd nearly filled the 375-seat theater at Mountain View High School to kick off discussions on installing stadium lights. Parents, athletes and coaches turned out to express support for the project. However, many of those living near the school strongly objected to installing lights and sound systems, raising concerns about the impact large night games would have on the neighborhood.

At the time, trust and communication between the district and neighbors were strained, with many neighbors feeling that the district wasn’t responding to their concerns.

“There was intense distrust of the district by a group of neighbors and much of it was easily understandable,” Trustee Phil Faillace said in an interview.

When neighbors raised questions or complaints, Faillace said they weren’t always getting addressed.

A group of neighbors and district officials, including Faillace, met in January 2019 to discuss the situation. That meeting was “pivotal” in opening the door to productive communication between the two sides, said Mac McConnell, who lives near Mountain View High and helped spearhead a group of neighbors called MVLA Neighborhood Cares.

Faillace, who was board president at the time, said he came away from the meeting feeling that the neighbors “had a strong case to make and that they deserved more attention.”

Following that meeting, the district and the neighbors held a series of work groups, where they talked through concerns about the project and began to hammer out policies for the use of the lights and sound systems.

“As things progressed and people started to trust each other a little bit more, there was a willingness to give and take, and to recognize each other’s needs,” Faillace said.

McConnell similarly said the process allowed neighbors’ perspectives to be heard and led to a good working partnership. According to McConnell, the neighbors’ concerns centered on the impact of the sound systems, the effect of night games on public safety and traffic, and the state of communications with the district.

Last June, the board approved policies regulating the use of the lights and sound systems, which were written in consultation with the neighbors.

The district and neighbors will be working to create pre-set levels for the public address systems. The idea is to establish settings for various scenarios that are agreed upon ahead of time. Although the ultimate success of the endeavor won’t be known until the project is complete and night games are played,

McConnell said he thinks they have a good plan.

He also emphasized that he appreciated the efforts of the board and administration to include neighbors in the process, which went “far beyond” what he saw when he researched similar debates over lights and sound systems in other school districts.

“I think it’s a model for groups working together,” McConnell said. “I think it’s very rare and I’m very appreciative, we are all very appreciative, of where we’ve gotten as a result.”

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