Although it is yet to cast a final vote, the Ridgefield Planning & Zoning Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved the drafting of a resolution in support of Tiger Hollow Inc.'s plan to build a new turf athletic field with lighting adjacent to Tiger Hollow Stadium at Ridgefield High School.
The proposed 120 x 60 yard turf field — which will replace an existing grass practice field that is perpendicular to the stadium — is estimated to cost $1.2 million and will be funded using private donations. The organization hopes to begin construction this spring and have the new field completed by Sept. 1.
As explained by Robert Jewell, attorney for the applicant, the new turf field will be used for the same youth sports that are supported by the stadium field, including football, soccer, girls and boys lacrosse, and field hockey.
"About seven or eight years ago a bunch of folks got together with the crazy idea to update the athletic field that's now called Tiger Hollow — not with tax dollars but with private donations," Jewell explained. "And the crazy part of that idea is that it worked — Tiger Hollow is now a showcase in town."
The football stadium, which seats about 8,000, is used for youth sports events as well as community events such as Relay for Life, Strongman Competition, July 4th Fireworks, Adult Soccer program, Father's Day 5K Race, youth league programs, summer camps and more.
Jewell said the town's Master Facilities Plan of 2006 had identified the adjacent grass field as a possible location for installation of a turf practice field. Installing artificial turf and lights will make the field usable year round and will also eliminate the maintenance issues associated with grass, he said. In addition it will be possible for both fields to be used simultaneously at night.
Tom Galione, co-president of the Tiger Hollow board, explained that the current grass field is used for football practice in the fall, but it gets all torn up during those two months, after which it needs to be re-seeded. As a result it can't be used again until the following fall, he said. Installing a turf field, he said, would make the field usable year round and thus would help ease the growing demand youth sports programs are placing on town facilities.
The project includes the installation of four 70-foot tall light fixtures that will each have 11 mounted lights. They are similar to the four mono-poles used for the stadium lights — however the stadium poles have 15 lights each, Galione explained. The average lumens per square foot on the new field will be about the same as the stadium field, he said, adding that the shielded "down" lights — which are designed to focus light only on the field — would primarily be used in the fall and early spring.
Chris Santini, the other co-president for Tiger Hollow Inc., who was involved in the lighting project for the stadium field several years ago, presented a photometric study showing that when one steps outside the boundary of the new field, at night, "there is literally no light pollution" from the new Musco lights.
Several of the commissioners expressed concern over the potential for additional light pollution affecting the surrounding residential neighborhood. Commissioner Michael Autuori wanted to know if it would be possible to reduce the brightness of the new lights, since the field was only going to be used for practices, as opposed to games. Santini said it was a safety issue and added that there was no way to use the lights "dimmed."
"With this type of bulb, the lights are either on or they're off," he said.
Galione said as with the stadium lights, the lights for the new practice field would be controlled using a computer. This, he said, allows Tiger Hollow management to set the lights to go on and off automatically, based on scheduled games and practices. As with the stadium field, youth sports leagues will need to coordinate with Tiger Hollow staff to schedule the use of the lights.
Commissioner John Katz said he has driven by the stadium on numerous occasions after 10 p.m. and seen the lights on... "and there's nobody out there." He said he wanted the commission to make it a condition for approval that the lights be shut off promptly following each event.
Santini explained that it takes about 30 minutes for the lighting system to fully shut down — so that could explain why Katz saw the lights on with no one on the field.
Ultimately the commissioners decided that it would be simpler to have a set shut-off time for the lights, so as to avoid the complexity of considering game schedules. The commission made it a condition of approval that the lights are to be fully shut off by 11 p.m. — which means shut-down must commence at around 10:30 p.m.
In addition the commission requested better cooperation from the various sports groups that will use the field, in terms of ensuring the lights are shut off following each event, should it end earlier than scheduled.
When asked by Katz, Galione said the town foots the electric bill for the lights. He said the town has agreed to help maintain the new field and that the Board of Selectmen has included a "placeholder" in the town budget (currently set at $35,000) for maintenance of the new field, in addition to the $45,000 currently allocated to maintain the stadium field. He emphasized, however, that the Board of Selectmen still has not agreed on a set amount for maintenance.
Steven Trinkaus, an engineer from Southbury working on behalf of Tiger Hollow Inc., said removal of soils from the site during construction will be minimized due to the fact that one corner of the field will need to filled and graded in order to make it level. He said only about 1,200 to 1,500 yards of soil, out of about 18,000, will need to be removed. He said they will build a temporary access road from Ridgebury Road in order to transport machinery and materials to the site. Trinkaus said power for the new field lights will be brought in from Ridgebury Road. In addition walkways and steps near the field will be rebuilt in order to improve access from the south.
Noah Stiles with SprinTurf, the company that installed new turf at the stadium in 2011, said the new field will be built by first grading, then placing a layer of coarse gravel which is covered by layer of stone dust, followed by installation of a fabric membrane and then the turf is laid on top. Rubber pellets will be used in the turf for cushioning. Stiles explained that while some artificial fields use a mix of rubber pellets and sand, it's generally better to use only pellets on a practice field, as sand leads to compaction and a harder playing surface (what's more, having a sand mix leads to increased maintenance, he said).
Stiles said the rubber pellets used in turf fields are made from car tires — however all the zinc and other metals which are harmful to the environment are removed from the rubber when it is processed.
Marian Gioles, of 123 Ridgebury Road, the only person who spoke during the public hearing segment of Tuesday's meeting, said she was "very concerned about the 'fake turf' and the affect it has on the water," as well as the lighting system. Gioles, who lives near the site, said the lighting system used on the current stadium field "is very intense, you can see it for miles around... and it goes beyond 10 p.m."
Trinkaus emphasized that the rubber used for the pellets is "an inert material" and therefore will not emit any chemicals via rain water runoff. He added that the new field will not require the use of any fertilizers or pesticides, as the grass field does now. He said in this regard "sources of pollution are literally eliminated by using a turf field on this site."
Trinkaus also said the rubber pellets "don't migrate" during rain storms — he said a recent investigation of the drains for the stadium field revealed that little if any of the rubber pellets from that field found their way toward the drains. He also said the new turf field would actually drain more slowly that the current grass field, because the artificial turf has a tendency to slow the drainage process.
The commission will cast a final vote on the project later this month.