Tabor Academy’s proposed stadium lights spark debate in Marion

Nov 14, 2019

MARION — The Zoning Board of Appeals listened to a presentation about Tabor Academy’s request to construct 90-foot-tall lights on its main athletic field, as well as both positive and negative input from residents of the abutting neighborhood on Thursday, Nov. 14.

Tabor first tried to construct the lights in 2011, but dropped the request due to protest from neighbors and town officials. The school submitted a similar proposal in May 2018 that was later shot down by the board, but is now trying again after Plymouth Superior Court ruled that the Dover Amendment, a state law that says municipalities can’t place unreasonable restrictions on non-profit, educational organizations, applies to the case.

At the Nov. 14 meeting, representatives from Tabor presented their need for the lights, and measures to reduce the impact on abuttors. Some residents voiced support for the project, citing Tabor’s positive impact on the community. Others disagreed and were skeptical that the project was necessary and truly qualified under the amendment.

Head of School John Quirk explained that participation in athletics,  is a requirement for graduation at Tabor. The lights would improve accessibility for students, and would be used for six to eight games in the fall and spring, practices in November after daylight savings and the occasional community event.

Mike Berry of Musco Sports Lighting gave a presentation on the logistical aspects of the lights. Four towers would be constructed, three of which would be 90 feet tall, and one would be 80 feet tall, but placed on a slope. They would be made of a dull galvanized steel, so as not to reflect sunlight on abutting properties, and use LED lights that would limit “light bleeding” outside of the field.

While the town’s bylaw limits lights taller than 35 feet, Berry said that the taller lights could angle down onto the field, and would actually have less glare and light pollution for abbuttors, than shorter lights.

Some residents voiced their support for the project based on Tabor’s positive impact on the town, often allowing others to use their facilities. “I think it’s a really nice idea...Tabor is really important to the town in a lot of ways, and Tabor needs the lights,” said Barbara Sanderson.

Heather Burke spoke out against the lights, saying that to fit the provisions of the amendment, Tabor has the burden of proof to show that the lights are of “primary and dominant” importance to education at the school. She added that the school could accomplish its goal of giving more access for athletics in other ways, such as having practices in the morning before class to take advantage of daylight.

Others expressed concerns about Tabor renting the field to others and having the lights on more often than suggested by Quirk. Some in attendance voiced concerns about traffic that might be brought into the village if more events were hosted under the lights.

Ultimately, the board decided to continue the hearing to Dec. 12 at 7 p.m.