Published On: Sat, Sep 21st, 2013

School Board bombshell: plug pulled on nighttime sports for New Hope and Solebury kids

NHS night footballIn a move that left many around New Hope and Solebury slack-jawed in disbelief, the New Hope-Solebury School Board voted on Monday to turn off the lights at stadium field after the fall season.

Board Member Alison Kingsley made the surprise motion, which had neither been listed on the agenda nor publicly advertised, and it was seconded by John Vaughn. Marleen Panzika, Valerie Mitchell, and Kurt Zander joined them in voting in favor of the motion. School Board President Amanda Elefante had left the room at the time of the vote, and Board Member Susan Atkinson represented the lone vote against the measure. Joseph Harraka and Jonathan Adar were not in attendance at the meeting.

The subject of New Hope-Solebury’s sports fields has come up frequently in recent years, as the school district is under-served in terms of practice and event space, which in turn can exacerbate Title IX compliance issues that seek to provide equal access to facilities for boys and girls. Additionally, some nearby neighbors have complained about the level of light and sound associated with nighttime sports events. One plan to address these concerns involved building a stadium funded substantially by private donations in an area referred to as Field 13. Key advantages of Field 13 are its distance from neighboring residents and its excellent topography, say plan advocates.

It was that proposal to pursue a stadium at Field 13 that was under consideration on the night of Sept. 16. School officials had previously taken measures to placate neighbors, including limiting pregame music, cutting overall sound amplification levels in half, and shutting down field lights by 9:30 p.m. after each game. Nonetheless, the Board voted down the compromise plan, and then went a step further, effectively banning night games altogether starting in the spring.

Despite multiple attempts, as of press time, no member of the New Hope-Solebury School Board or its counsel had provided an explanation or rationale for their vote that night to this publication. Three individuals close to the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the School Board is not in receipt of any litigation by disgruntled neighbors.

Elefante, who did not vote, said in a statement, “My expectation was that the Board would take action on the resolution on the agenda with discussion on whether field #13 or field #12 would be selected. I had spent an hour on the phone that day with Dave Horne from [athletic facilities consultant group] Architerra reviewing the potential of this deliberation and ensuring that he came prepared for it.

“Over the past two years, I have facilitated discussions as Board President on issues around Field #2, but I have chosen to recuse myself from Board discussion, and from making any public comments, and have abstained on voting. Since I was serving as Board President, and I am also a neighbor, I felt it was the best decision,” she added.

Board Member Joseph Harraka said he was “blindsided” by the vote, which he called an “unfortunate decision which I would have adamantly opposed.”

“During the previous Board meeting we seemed to be heading toward striking middle ground and coming up with a win-win compromise. It’s not just about sports games, it’s about the sense of community spirit and the chance for working people to be part of that. This action will signal to the greater community that we’re pandering to a limited contingent, and will undermine the confidence in and credibility of the Board. This action should have been undertaken through the normal course, including soliciting the commentary of the community,” he continued.

Concluded Harraka, “I believe the decision is procedurally defective.”

Peter Malamis, chairman of the New Hope-Solebury Education Fund said, “After all we’ve been through with this board, this eleventh-hour approach is disappointing, but not surprising. In fact, it’s standard operating procedure and this kind of governance is why the incumbents running for re-election couldn’t even make it out of the primary.

“There are a myriad of solutions to the concerns of a handful of neighbors that as a member of the task force that worked with them I know for a fact are acceptable to them — solutions that don’t negatively impact taxpayers, parents, and students like this one does. With all the pressing academic needs of our district, this is the last issue we should be spending time and money on. I look forward to the new board in December that knows better what our priorities should be and how to properly get things done,” he added.

Raymond Boccuti, superintendent of schools for the New Hope-Solebury School District, commented, “We want to be the best neighbors we can. I’m also interested in whatever is best for the students, and we need more fields. What’s nice is that members of the community are offering to help pay, so no one loses.”

That is, of course, if the decision is reversed at the next School Board meeting scheduled for Oct. 21 and open to the public. Should the decision stand, the Athletic Department will be forced to undo a schedule that is approximately 75% complete to accommodate the ban on night games next spring, and the teenagers of New Hope and Solebury will have to find other ways to keep themselves occupied in the evening.

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Displaying 18 Comments
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  1. mband2008@comcast.net' Melvin Band says:

    To Jennifer Spears’ comments,as I previously stated,the problem is not the lack of fields.The REAL problem is the lack of skill in scheduling. Just look at the schedules for our sports teams by going to nhsd.org and click on athletics. For example, who in their right mind would schedule the boy’s soccer team to play 10 games in 20 days or three games in 4 days.This has been going on for years with the school boards( including the present one) refusing to demand that the supt. demand that the AD rectify the insane scheduling, because they fear that they will be accused of micromanaging.

  2. mband2008@comcast.net' Melvin Band says:

    To Caroline Banks and Others. As I stated at the special meeting ( I was the first speaker), Title IX IS NOT an issue. Title IX is all about an equal distribution between the genders. What the district does or does not do for one gender as a whole,it must do or not do for the other gender as a whole. Thus,if the district decided to have all,some or no boy’s varsity games on the stadium field be it night or day, it must do the same for the girl’s. The administration blatantly misrepresents Title IX trying to frighten the public into believing that a certain number of games must be played on the stadium field. If new fields are not built, somehow the district would incur the wrath of the Office of Civil Rights.But,if you listen to the tape, you will see that my interpretation of Title IX was not challenged either by the Board, Supt. Boccuti nor the attorney for the district, Christine Roddick. By the way, the district has 10 bonafide PiAA approved athletic fields plus six tennis courts.Just how many fields do we need?

  3. Bottom line, proponents are not being factual, distorting information and not looking at a solution to the problem, rather using kids, fun, etc. as an excuse to not do anything. This is not a new issue, the school chose not to address it. We all want kids to have fun. However, regulations are there for a reason. The houses were built long before the illegal lights and sound system were put up. Even though these are illegal (Zoning requirements were violated as the school thought they were above the law), neighbors put up with it initially as there were only a few soccer games and events at nite and we want kids to have fun. But, since the football posts were put up, the frequency of sports events and activities increased exponentially and now we have the title IX problem. The use of the field should have been planned out properly initially and if it had gone thru the proper zoning hearing process, perhaps, with more input from eveybody, all these issues would have been brought up with other sports/events and a better solution would have resulted and better use of funding. Now, the issue is no longer about a few nite games/events as proponents keep on distorting the facts.

  4. ceegee33@gmail.com' Clara says:

    aren’t the lights illegal on this field?
    isn’t the town Ordinance 36 ft lite poles and these are 100 feet tall?
    aren’t the sound systems out of compliance with town Ordinances?

    Doesn’t the School Bd have to follow the laws and obtain Town Permits to do these things?

    What lessons are they teaching the children of the town?

  5. Lupok@nhsdlions.org' Anonymous says:

    As a student of NHS High School this is extremely disappointing. Everytime we have a night game I try to be in attendance as it is a fun experience for the all the students that go. Soccer, Football, Lacrosse, Track and Cross Country being some of the sports played at the field. Just because people who chose to live in the community next to the field knowingly knew what they were getting into when then bought there house, doesn’t allow them to post complaint’s. That’s life people there are pros and cons to everything. As students there is now a petition online and we are trying to get as many students and their parents at the next board meeting. We already have lights shutting off at 9:30 and less sound. If a compromise was made, it should be lights off after a new stadium is built. We look forward to this especially on Friday nights. How come we’re the only high school in all bucks county that seems to have this problem? Politics in this town it’s horrible. School Board I hope you read this and reconsider the decision.

    • Anonymous, I agree, that is is such a special thing to have the Friday night in place. But we also must be aware that MOST home owners on Riverstone bought their house before the lights suddenly went up. Then the games and trainings increased more and more every year, and now with title IV it will increase even more. And besides the complaints of the neighborhood, it is killing our field. It can’t hold up. So them complaining all the time is maybe a blessing in disguise because now the Board needs to follow up on the beautiful master plan that should begin to take shape. We need at least another good field to have games with lights and sound. Maybe two fields. But financially just start with one. Then the pressure is off and when a new field is in place the pressure is off. Maybe this is a way to have them move forward, because putting off is like falling asleep and dream….. The students and parents deserve another field!!! Without issues!!!!! And there is private funding, so let’s start already!!!!

  6. We absolutely need! another good field for the overflow of games/practices. There are too many events going on now on field 2. One field is not enough. Maybe the next field can be the primary field for night games and everybody will be happy

  7. The previous board who voted Raymond Boccuti to another school term before they lost their board positions instead of letting the current board vote was full of football cronies (Boccuti was a major supporter of the lights and sound and purposely did not address the issue for many, many years except for lip service). He was thus rewarded by the previous board with a renewed term. It is not just the folks closest to the stadium that are affected by the lights and sound, it is all the surrounding neighbors. These lights and speaker system were placed without consulting the surrounding neighbors and proper process for deviation at Zoning board concerning zoning code for noise and lights were not followed, because they would not have been allowed. Including the other sports games played at the field during the weekday nights, the weekend nite games and other events, the field is used on average 1-2 times a week at nite. So, those who invoke pity of those “mere” 4-5 games a year are so disingenuous and continue to show their true inconsiderate self. The comments posted speak volumes of how that group minimizes all the surrounding neighbors and continue their bullying ways to the surrounding neighbors who have been seeking an acceptable solution implemented for sometime now, not just lip service about some plans years in the future that has no dedicated funding. Sports can be played at the field during the day as it had been prior and games can be scheduled if there is dedication & commitment to it. That might show a sign of “good” neighborliness and empathy that had been lacking.

    • You write that Boccuti was a major supporter of the lights as if this is a bad thing. Appears to me that this makes him a supporter of things that benefit his students and the community of New Hope. Of course this is a low priority for self-centered Board members and people like you. The “acceptable solution” is to leave the lights alone, where they have been since before the houses were there. Not to vote them down in a surprise Board meeting putsch, or worse, spend $100s of thousands to move the stadium to accomodate a handful of unethical Board members and an even smaller number of million dollar home owners who are poor planners in their real estate purchases

  8. By the way: the Stadium light went up WITHOUT a PERMIT, and without inspections.
    So it might make it hard for the School Board to reverse the motion since now the lights are ‘illegal”

  9. The residents that are complaining are saving money since the lights of the Stadium field light up their WHOLE house so they don’t have to turn on any of their own. Its just up to 5 nights per week! If they don’t like it, let them sit in their basement. And if they can’t watch TV because of the noise of the PA system, let them buy earplugs for up to 5 nights per week. Small price to pay for living there.

  10. a@b.com' Joe Resident says:

    Hey Phil, if you like the sound so much, why don’t you buy their home and live there. Probably don’t have a stadium near you peaceful home

  11. judyfinn73@gmail.com' Judy Finn says:

    The more I read and the more I listen to the audio and research some of our board members, the more implorable I find this. Myself and my freshman ball player are attempting to bring this to light…
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-the-Friday-Night-Lights-NHS-Lions/228885970602783

  12. flambe123@yahoo.com' Phil McKracken says:

    These shameless bums were voted out because they used their positions on the Board in self-serving unethical ways. This is par for the course. No regard for sudents or our community….to have the sounds of a football game (which no doubt represents all they loathe) invade their ears while they sip wine in the million dollar homes? Not once but 4 or 5 times a year? The horror….THE……..HORROR!!

    • Phil, I want those Friday night games as well, Its great for the community, it is great for the parents and students, but I think the issue is not only the 5 Football games that need the lights on, but also during the games of other sports, the boys soccer, the girls soccer, varsity, JV, Lacrosse etc. And not only the games but also the evening trainings. So that results sometimes into 3 to 4 nights per week. And now with the threat of the Title IV which will put more games on the over used field also. We can say that the neighbors can save a bunch in electricity cost since the Stadium lights are flooding into their homes. They don’t need to turn on any lights of their own, but I think that we do need another field that can take the overflow, and gradually build that up into a beautiful spot, where there are no problems. Our students and parents deserve that!

  13. As an NHS alumni I am APPALLED to hear that this is happening. Not only has the school board overstepped its bounds (again) but it is destroying a wonderful sense of community. Furthermore how do they expect this to end in a good way, all it will lead to is more bored students and in turn more less-then-legal behavior. Bad move NHS.

  14. dhahn708@comcast.net' David Hahn says:

    So the bunch of lame ducks have ruffled feathers in an attempt to cause disruption to the quality os the sports and education programs. Some of us have spent many years and hours creating an educational environment rich in meaningful classroom studies, artistic and social justice and sports programs that our district is proud of. Why attemp to fix what is not broken? For the benefit of one outgoing board member? The individuals that supported this should be ashamed of themselves and their action. Let’s see how much their children gain from this “learning experience.

    David hahn
    Past NHS School Board Member

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