Notre Dame Prep still trying to reach compliance on stadium lights

A view of Bemis Field at Notre Dame Preparatory in north Scottsdale during a recent night game. (Submitted photo)

A view of Bemis Field at Notre Dame Preparatory in north Scottsdale during a recent night game. (Submitted photo)

It’s been an arduous road for Notre Dame Preparatory as the educational entity looks to belay concerns that have erupted in recent weeks surrounding the brightness of stadium lights at Scot Bemis Field.

However, after several months of trying, the lights still are not in compliance with city code.

Nearby residents have complained about the lighting at Bemis Field, which features LED stadium lights, being too bright, forcing the city to step in and ban the use of the stadium lights until they fall within the guidelines of city code.

In order to determine where Notre Dame stood with this code, the city performed a “real-time light test” during the school’s home game against Paradise Valley High School Thursday, Oct. 6, measuring for light spillage.
According to an Oct. 11 e-mail from Jesus Murillo, Scottsdale senior planner, this test revealed the stadium lights still have an issue with spillage outside of the stadium.

“The lights seem to be more uniform on the field, and lower in some areas of the northeast corner of the field, at the 100-foot setback perimeter,” Mr. Murillo said. “The light spillage was brighter along the perimeter, N. 98th Street, and along E. Bell Road.”

Moving forward, Mr. Murillo said the school will have another test on Friday, Oct. 28 during NDP’s regular season finale against Vista Grande High School. Additionally, Mr. Murillo said Notre Dame Prep will be limited to only adjusting the lights in preparation for the test to Wednesday, Oct. 26 and Thursday, Oct. 27.

“The limited adjustment timeline is so that the neighborhood does not have to endure many more nights of light testing,” he pointed out.

But the test not only revealed the light’s non-compliance for the city and residents, but nearby resident Sujeet Karna, who is the HOA president of the Trails North community, said there is also an issue with the stadium’s sound being too loud.

Mr. Karna shared an Oct. 7 e-mail he sent to Notre Dame Prep President Jim Gmelich with the Scottsdale Independent in which Mr. Karna outlines his concerns for the loudness of the speakers as well as a three-second clip from the Oct. 6 game.

“It woke my 6-year-old daughter up who come downstairs to complain about the noise and said she couldn’t sleep,” Mr. Karna. “Please take the safeguards to ensure the students operating the system to escalate to excessive volumes like (Thursday) night.”

Issues with the lights

Mr. Karna said nearby residents have two main issues that arise from the light’s brightness: spillage and glare.

A reader submitted photo showcasing the light penetration he experiences in his home that neighbors Bemis Field. (Submitted photo)

A reader submitted photo showcasing the light penetration he experiences in his home that neighbors Bemis Field. (Submitted photo)

Spillage centers around how much of the light spills out of the stadium. Mr. Karna said this affects not only Trails North community, but also Windgate and the Ridge.

The issue of glare, Mr. Karna said, is the more critical issue and poses a danger to those driving on Bell Road near the stadium. Additionally, Mr. Karna said as the days grow shorter, there are longer periods of time drivers could potentially be blinded by the stadium lights during night hours.

Along with providing a safe environment for motorists and cyclists, Mr. Karna said there is concern for environmentally-sensitive areas being negatively affected by the bright lights.

“When the lights are on, they can be seen well into the McDowell Mountain Ranch communities and are polluting the skies of what should be kept dark, especially in the preserve areas,” he said.

Mr. Karna said he had two meetings with Mr. Gmelich to share his concerns, including inviting Mr. Gmelich over to his house, which is a quarter mile from the stadium to see how bright the lights actually were.

“Unfortunately, NDP ignored the situation and proceeded using the stadium out of compliance until others in the community brought it to the attention of the mayor’s office,” Mr. Karna said.

NDP lighting timeline

According to a recent open letter from Mr. Gmelich to families of students attending NDP, the school has been trying to fix its issue with the lighting since late 2015.

According to the letter, Notre Dame Prep hired SportSentry as the field lighting vendor to install a lighting system that would “operate within the city of Scottsdale’s codes and standards.” However, in October 2015, NDP became aware the lights were “not functioning as required or as purportedly designed,” Mr. Gmelich stated in the letter.

In November 2015, Notre Dame Prep reached out to the General Counsel of the Diocese of Phoenix to express its concerns for the lighting and in early 2016, the school obtained legal help to pursue further action if SportSentry did not fix the lights to meet the city’s stipulations, according to the letter.

While the school tried to work out a solution with SportSentry to fix the lights, Notre Dame Prep decided to work on the system itself over the spring and summer of 2016 to try and meet the city’s code, according to the letter.

“Notre Dame has always tried to be a good neighbor to the residents who live near our campus, and we are proud of our longtime affiliation with the city of Scottsdale,” Mr. Gmelich said in the letter. “When we hired SportSentry to design and install a state-of-the-art field lighting system, the last thing that we expected was for that system to fail, and for our neighbors and the city to be upset with us as a result. For that, I am profoundly sorry.”

According to the letter, Notre Dame Prep is requesting one final proposal from SportSentry to bring the light’s within compliance with the city’s code.

“If SportSentry is unable to do so, NDP is prepared to do whatever is necessary, including the installation of a completely new field lighting system by a completely different lighting contractor, to ensure that Bemis Field receives the high-quality, fully-controllable held lighting system that NDP contracted and paid for, and that the city of Scottsdale approved, well over a year ago,” Mr, Gmelich said in the letter.

However, Mr. Karna said Notre Dame’s testing of the lights throughout this process has become a burden for many of the residents around the stadium.

Additionally, Mr Karna said the end goal is for NDP to reach compliance with the city’s lighting code and if the school fails to do so, then the city should deny the school use of the field until the lights are in compliance.

“We are not asking them to take down the field, just properly manage the lights and be good neighbors,” Mr. Karna said.

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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