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SHERIDAN — Big Horn High School football teams will now be able to play night games after the Board of County Commissioners voted 5-0 Tuesday to approve a conditional use permit to install stadium lighting on the school’s football field.
Head football coach Mike McGuire said safety and fostering greater support were the key reasons to install lighting and play night games.
He said he was recently at a state meeting with other coaches, and one of the primary discussion points was player safety and heat exhaustion.
McGuire noted that last year, one of Big Horn’s players ended up in the hospital with cramps and heat exhaustion during a game played on a hot afternoon early in the season.
Typically, Big Horn High School holds its games at 1 p.m. on Fridays.
When the CUP was considered at the County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting May 1, McGuire also noted how important the idea of playing under “Friday Night Lights” was to his players.
Sheridan County School District 1 Superintendent Marty Kobza said the switch in game times will enable parents, siblings and grandparents to attend more games without taking time off work.
“We’ve heard the concerns from the neighbors, but as a comprehensive high school with a comprehensive athletic program, we feel the kids deserve this lighting,” Kobza said.
County Planner Mark Reid noted in his staff report that four 70-foot tall poles with a total of 40 luminaires would be installed to light the field for night games. One of the light poles will also be used to hold a Verizon cellphone booster.
The original CUP for the football stadium did not include lighting.
Reid said there are approximately 40 residences within a half-mile of the stadium, with the closest two being within 300 feet of the lighting site.
The school district outlined a schedule of approximately 30 uses of the lights in the coming fall season, with a usual shut-off time of 10 p.m.
The CUP was approved with two conditions including that co-location of a cellphone booster on the poles is permitted and that shielded lighting must be used for all other exterior lighting except for the stadium lights.
SCSD1 Business Manager Jeremy Smith noted that the stadium lights will also be shielded on three sides so that light will be directed onto the field. Smith also said athletic directors and other staff will turn the lights off promptly after practices and games because the school district pays for the electricity and does not wish to disturb nearby neighbors.
Several nearby neighbors expressed concerns about the lights at the meeting. Primary concerns were light pollution, noise, traffic and disruption of relaxing evenings at home for residents who live directly adjacent to the field. One resident also expressed concern about the health effects of having a cellphone booster attached to the lighting.
Several said they were not directly opposed to the lighting but that they wanted the school district to be held accountable for limiting usage and making sure the lights were shut off immediately after games and practices.
Commissioner Steve Maier said he was disappointed no SCSD1 school board trustees had attended the meeting to address neighbor concerns. He also said he didn’t want the county commissioners to be responsible for micro-managing the usage of the lights when that should be controlled by the district.
Also on Tuesday, commissioners voted 0-5 for a conditional use permit request from Melissa Jelly to open a small child care facility in an extra residence on her property at 382 Adkins Valley Lane.
The permit was denied in great part because all the surrounding neighbors in the area signed a petition saying they were against the establishment of the business. Primary concerns were traffic and road maintenance on the private road that is maintained by those who live in the neighborhood.
Many also said they wanted to maintain the peace and quiet of the neighborhood, and that they were worried about decreased property values.
Jelly had offered to pay for the additional needed road maintenance. She also said she would put in the parent handbook that speeds must be controlled when dropping off and retrieving children because there is a sight-impaired child who lives in the area. Jelly said she talked to two realtors who said property values in the area would not be affected by the presence of the business.
In other business, commissioners approved a CUP for a Montana-Dakota Utilities electrical substation on a 0.2-acre parcel near Soldier Creek Road and rejected a bid from ICM to rehabilitate a taxilane at the airport because it came in nearly double the engineer’s estimate.