“I don’t think we’re ready as a town”
There won’t be any softball games played after dusk on the new Tommy V field, as this week the Crested Butte Town Council decided not to install lights on the future facility.
Even with new focused lighting technology and the chance to expand the town’s recreation program at the school district’s expense, the idea of having 70-foot tall light poles looming over town was a bit much for the council.
As part of the Crested Butte Community School expansion taking place this summer, the Gunnison RE1J School District is relocating the Tommy V field across the road from the current Tommy V field. When discussions began with the town about a new field, lights were included, in an effort to expand playing time. The school district is paying for the new field, and also would have covered the cost of installing the $160,000 lighting system.
The council spent more than an hour discussing the topic during their April 6 meeting, hearing just as many arguments from the public in favor of the lights as there were against the lights.
During the council meeting on April 20, the town’s Parks and Recreation director Jake Jones said he hadn’t changed his mind since the last meeting and was in favor of lighting the field.
“We simply don’t have any more room for park amenities… The only way I know of expanding what we’ve got is by lighting the field,” Jones said.
Jones said several members of the council and town staff took a trip to the city of Delta last week to see various examples of lighting equipment on that municipality’s ball fields. However, Jones said, “We didn’t quite see an apples to apples comparison,” noting that Delta’s fields were large multi-field complexes on the outskirts of the city.
One of the reasons for the trip was to observe how new lighting technology could cut down on light pollution. But the new technology requires the use of 70-foot poles. The tallest point on the Community School is the square parapet, which is 66 feet above ground. “Seventy feet isn’t entirely out of context, but it’s nonetheless taller than we anticipated,” Jones said.
He said the new technology did cut down on the overall amount of light pollution, but there was still some “light bleed.” Furthermore, Jones said changing the light bulbs on 70-foot-tall poles could be problematic.
Crested Butte resident Joni Windsor said the Town Council had worked hard several years ago to pass an ordinance requiring the use of “down lighting” to cut back on light pollution. “As far as I’m concerned, any leakage of light is unacceptable,” she said.
Crested Butte resident Harvey Castro said, “I’ve been grappling with this for the last two weeks, both as a ball player who used to play under the lights, and as somebody who is an avid advocate of dark skies.”
In response to concerns that the lights would affect Crested Butte’s night skies, Castro said it doesn’t really get dark in the summer until after 10 p.m. Jones had proposed a 10 p.m. curfew for the lights.
“I don’t see those lights being a cause of any kind of major source blocking night skies… I’ve come to the conclusion I think we could really use those lights,” Castro said.
Crested Butte resident Steve Glazer would live adjacent to the new field, and said he was opposed to the lights. “I plead with you to not authorize the installation of lights on Tommy V,” he said. “We’re talking about lighting my yard.”
Crested Butte resident and Babe Ruth umpire Wayde Hollis stressed the importance of having a good baseball diamond for the community, as well as in honor of Tommy Villanueva. He described the spectacular views the new field would have and said lights were an important part of making the field better. “I want to see this be the premier ball field in western Colorado,” Hollis said.
Crested Butte resident Annie Tunkey also lives close to where the new field will be built and does not support the lights. In the arguments she heard in support of the lights Tunkey said, “There’s been a lot of talk about the kids. I have kids. I love kids. But it’s not really the kids who are going to benefit. It’s going to be recreational softball players.”
She continued, “No matter how much technology has improved, lighting Tommy V is going to change our night sky. It’s going to change Crested Butte.”
Mayor Alan Bernholtz said he was concerned about keeping the 10 p.m. curfew and wondered if the town would eventually allow the lights to stay on until 11 p.m., and more than four days a week.
Town manager Susan Parker said it was up to the council to set those limitations.
Councilmember Leah Williams asked if it would be possible for the school district to put in the infrastructure for the lights, such as electric wires and tubing, but not install the light poles.
Jones said that was an option the school district was willing to consider. The infrastructure would cost about $10,000.
Bernholtz said it was a tough decision to make. “This is right up there with passing the leash law,” he said. “It’s not that black and white for us. There are a lot of good opinions and it doesn’t make it easy for the council.”
Williams said she thought the trip to Delta would prove the new lighting technology was better. “To find they have to be 70 feet tall—to me it was a deal-stopper. I don’t think we’re ready as a town to have the highest thing in the county in our town. Even though they would only be on 30 minutes a day, four days a week, they’re going to stand there 365 days a year,” Williams said.
She told the town staff, “I know where you’re coming from. I think it’s an excellent solution but I don’t think we’re there yet as a town.”
Councilmember Billy Rankin said he thought the new Tommy V field would be an amazing field even without lights. Rather than putting lights on the field, Rankin said he’d like to see the council make an effort to preserve the town’s two other ball fields.
The council ultimately voted five to one to keep lights off of the new field. Bernholtz cast the single vote in favor of the lights, but “only to show on record that it was a difficult decision for people to make.”
Councilmember Skip Berkshire was absent.
When the vote was over, everyone in the room was still smiling. Hollis said, “Even though there won’t be lights, I appreciated this discussion. And if it brings up the importance of Gothic and Pitsker, I think it’s been worthwhile.”