Friday Night Lights in Morristown: City Council supports high school plans

Friday Night Lights is coming to Morristown High School.

And probably also the lights on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

This is according to the sporting director Smitty Hortonwho appeared at Thursday’s virtual planning board meeting to outline Morris School District plans for a $1.3 million lighting installation on the Morristown High grass pitch.

The lights will night matches, practices and orchestra rehearsals. An LED scoreboard also comes to the west end of the field, to replace the scoreboard behind the goal posts on the east side.

Morristown High Athletic Director Smitty Horton and City Planning Board Chairman Joe Stanley during a virtual meeting, August 25, 2022. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

While the board gave a unanimous vote of support and some recommendations, the exercise was mostly ceremonial. The regional district is not responsible to the municipal councils; Thursday’s presentation was just a courtesy.

However, approval from the State Department of Environmental Protection is required, as a stream runs under the field.

Horton said fall 2023 should see one night game each for the boys’ and girls’ soccer, football and lacrosse team, and a unified special needs team. Friday night football is being considered, he admitted when questioned by council engineer Charles Carley.

Evening practices are also important for different teams, Horton said.

Most events will begin at 7 p.m. and are scheduled to end at 9 p.m. Football is the exception – Horton predicted these games would end around 9:45 p.m.

District personnel will attempt to clear the field by 10 p.m., Horton said, noting that he lives an hour away and would like to get home at a reasonable time. He said he was willing to experiment with earlier starts.

Outside organizations are unlikely to spend time in the spotlight; Using Morristown High should prevent that, the athletic director said.

Project manager Martin Newmark also presented the testimony of the architect Greg Somjen, engineer Bill Edwards and District Business Administrator Anthony LoFranco during the 90 minute online session.

Pressed to park for big games, LoFranco said nearby Alexander Hamilton Elementary School should accommodate any overflow.

The LED lights will be placed atop pairs of 90 and 70 foot poles. Although the lighting is bright, for player safety it should not spill into neighbors’ homes, Somjen and Edwards said. They cited sports lighting at Glen Rock High School, which district members visited.

The plans show the locations of the new lights and scoreboard on the Morristown High football field. Presented to the Planning Council on August 25, 2022. Screen capture by Kevin Coughin

Only one resident – a father of MHS athletes – called the meeting. He claimed that Colonials are at a disadvantage compared to other schools who value practice time under the lights.

Many of the council’s questions were about controlling the lights and who to contact if they were left on too long.

LoFranco has agreed to post contact information in English and Spanish on the pitch. The district will also consider taking a June public briefing with another promoted in Spanish, at the request of a board member. Marisa Sweeney. The planning board also asked the district to power lights from existing utility poles, if possible, to minimize unsightly wires.

But Newmark balked at Curley’s recommendation to allow someone from the city government to turn off the lights, which are controllable via a cellphone app.

A timer is also a bad idea, Edwards said, responding to council member Chris Russo. If he turns off the lights during a lacrosse game, a child could get hurt, Edwards said.

When member of the board of directors (and president of the municipal council) Stefan Armington Asked who will enforce neighbors’ complaints if nighttime gaming proliferates, Newmark said residents should contact the school district.

“We don’t have to do anything,” the attorney said. “But we will certainly act in a reasonable and friendly manner.”

Morristown Planning Committee virtual review of Morristown High football field lighting plans, August 25, 2022. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin

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