Published Dec. 15, 2021
By RILEY PALSHAW
After a momentous turnout of students, parents, staff and community members at a CUSD board meeting Oct. 27, the Carmel Unified Board of Education has chosen to postpone their decision regarding the installment of stadium lights at Carmel High School until they have plans to mitigate all surrounding concerns regarding traffic dilemmas, limited parking spaces and light pollution.
“If our community is feeling pretty good about the things that we put in place, and it’s just a matter of getting them started, it could be January,” said CUSD superintendent Ted Knight at a Nov. 17 board meeting. “If we have to go back to the drawing board, we will reach a time where we have to make a decision because if we decide we want to move forward with this, we must be ready to go by August.”
The CHS football field has operated without stadium lights for the past eighty years, but with California’s implementation of the late start law for the 2022-23 school year, forcing schools to push back their start times to at least 8:30 a.m., district administrators and the Board of Education have prioritized focus on a stadium lights project that proposes installation of four 70- to 80-foot-tall LED lights on the school’s turf field facility.
Following the release of a Environmental Impact Report draft in August 2021, the district was met with a surge of students and community members expressing either their support for or their concerns surrounding the project. Students say new stadium lights are not only essential for athletes who will practice at later times by a late-start schedule, but for improving campus culture through Friday night football games, one of the main desires of the student population.
“Every school I ever worked at had lights,” CHS principal Jon Lyons says. “You don’t even think about it, it’s just the way it is with high school football on Friday nights.”
The EIR draft was met with a list of concerns from Carmel residents in streets neighboring the high school, revolving around hazardous parking and traffic issues that are sure to rise with more late-night sporting events and larger crowds.
“If we don’t address current issues that are happening on the streets, it’s only going to get hazardous when safety issues start happening in the dark,” said Carmel resident Fran Dillard at the Nov. 17 meeting.
At the November meeting, one resident put it plainly: “You don’t have enough on-site parking.”
To handle these new crowds, the board has proposed a variety of possible solutions, including a shuttle system to transport fans from their parked cars at Carmel Middle School up to the high school, temporary No Parking signs to line parts of residential streets on game days and additional parking spots constructed in place of the current CHS tennis courts, which already don’t fit game regulations. Currently, CUSD plans to rip out storage portables at the back of the high school’s campus to create 30 to 50 parking spaces for faculty members, allowing students to park in spaces the faculty currently takes up in the main parking lot.
Superintendent Knight has been encouraging collaboration between the board and residents, hoping to alleviate most, if not all, community concerns over lights. First on Oct. 6 and again on Dec. 8, Knight opened the CHS auditorium for a listening session between him and community members, providing residents with the opportunity to voice any new concerns and continuing the dialogue.
Ultimately, Knight says he is here to do right by the students.
“If we can mitigate the community members’ concerns, they might not love the installation of lights, but my hope is that they don’t fight it,” Knight says. “Hopefully, they understand that we’ve alleviated enough of their concerns and that students’ desire for a great high school experience now outweighs the uncomfortability of their parking.”
While logistical issues with parking and safety must be addressed, some feel there needs to be a sense of urgency with these plans for change to actually happen before the start of the next school year.
“It has to be done,” senior athlete and ASB vice president Addie Crabbe told a Sandpiper reporter. “It’s been an ongoing dispute between the school and local residents, and for the longest time it was something that was only talked about. But now that there’s a later start time, it seems like we have no other option. This needs to happen sooner rather than later.”
CHS athletic director Golden Anderson notes that the late-start time exacerbates the existing issue of limited light during practices, while stressing that without lights, winter sport programs can’t exist. Anderson sees lights as a benefit for CHS athletic programs and something long overdue for winter sports teams.
What if stadium lights don’t get installed by the time next winter rolls around?
“If lights aren’t installed, the athletic department has looked into renting out facilities at either Monterey Peninsula College or Pacific Grove High School,” Anderson explains, “since those are the closest places with lights that students could practice during the winter.”
Although an option, CHS teams would likely not get a turn to use the venues until after 7 p.m. each night, and renting out facilities would mean losing the ability to host home games.
Knight reminds the community that installing lights means the school has the ability to turn them on and doesn’t mean the school will consistently be hosting games and practices late into the night.
“I’m always going to put the student voice first,” Knight says, “and that’s not going to be a popular choice to everybody. If students are saying lights are what they need, we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that happens.”
Similarly, the CHS principal is cautiously optimistic that stadium lights will be installed on the CHS campus before fall, but Lyons says that the school board has a responsibility to handle all secondary issues before finalizing a decision.