Loyola Academy is going to need a comeback effort to finish with a positive result in this one.
The Wilmette high school’s request to add lights to its athletic stadium will go to the Village Board with a negative recommendation following a 3-2 vote from the Wilmette Zoning Board of Appeals on Oct. 11.
The measure will first go in front of the Wilmette Village Board — from which it will need a supermajority, or five yes votes — in November.
Loyola Academy is looking to install four, 80-foot light poles — two on each side of Hoerster Field — at Sachs Stadium to enable Friday night football games, as well as other opportunities for its students. Currently, the varsity football team — a premier program in Illinois — plays home games on Saturday afternoon.
Genevieve Atwood, Loyola Academy’s vice president for athletics and fitness, has said that participation in extracurricular activities is growing at Loyola and its athletics facilities cannot accommodate all of the school’s teams, which she said leads to the Ramblers’ programs having to go “offsite to outdoor and indoor fields, causing many challenges for both our athletes and our coaches and our families.”
To go forward with the lights, Loyola needs the Village of Wilmette to approve, among other requests, the height of the light poles, the brightness of their illumination and the volume of the potential stadium noise — all of which are projected to eclipse zoning regulations.
The Zoning Board’s decision came after eight hours of discussion spread across two meetings. A majority of the first meeting on Sept. 6 was taken up by a presentation from Loyola Academy, while Oct. 11’s session was dominated by more than two hours of public comment.
Hal Francke, an attorney representing Loyola, began the discussion by presenting additional sound data reportedly gathered during Loyola’s home football game on Oct. 3 and an update to parking alleviation, announcing that the attendees can use a portion of the nearby Edens Plaza parking lot when other options are exhausted.
Franke also reiterated that the school hopes the Village of Wilmette will consider increasing parking fines from $40 to $100 in and around Loyola Academy.
The 30 speakers Oct. 11 were a mix of disgruntled neighbors and passionate Loyola alumni, parents and students. The neighbors reiterated many concerns shared by their peers on Sept. 6, such as assumed negative impacts to traffic, noise, and safety in and around Loyola Academy during Friday night football games.
Loyola representatives have also addressed the concerns in public settings; however, residents like Ruthie Swibel said the school’s mitigation suggestions are not enough.
“The issue is not whether Loyola is an asset to the community or if it deserves to have lights,” she said. “The question the board of appeals is obligated to answer is issue is whether Loyola’s application adequately addresses noise levels, safety, parking and congestion with safeguard and systems that are enforceable and sustainable.”
Concerning safety, some residents spoke about pedestrian safety with the increase in traffic congestion; however, others — in live and written testimony — expressed worry about an increase in crime as football games move from the daytime to evening hours, even mentioning the South Side location of regular Loyola foes like St. Rita and Mount Carmel.
Loyola social studies teacher Mark McGuire said he was compelled to speak because of the prejudicial commentary.
“This is the same implicit dog-whistling and bias that accompanied resistance to school segregation and busing programs throughout northern cities throughout the civil rights movement,” he said.
Other Loyola supporters said that the school should be allowed the same opportunity to install lights as nearly all of its public-school counterparts in the area. With that in mind Francke said that he does not believe Loyola’s residential neighbors are being asked to bear a unique burden, noting other lighted outdoor facilities in and around the community.
Loyola is proposing to utilize the stadium lights for up to 60 nights per year, broken up into a maximum of five Friday football games (10:30 p.m. curfew), 30 practices (7 p.m.) and 25 nonfootball (lacrosse, soccer, track and field) competitions (9 p.m.).
Atwood has said the current arrangement is a detriment to the athletic experience for many students, as fewer student fans can attend games on Saturdays or off campus.
“I’m convinced lights will impact our student-athletes and our community positively,” she said previously. “This will provide equity to all of our sports teams and opportunities for men’s and women’s sports to compete on campus in front of our peers.”
While all five commissioners expressed hesitation with their opinions, Ryrie Pellaton, Karl Camillucci and Maria Urban sided with the neighbors. Camillucci also added he didn’t believe Loyola Academy met the burden for hardship that is needed to approve zoning variances.
Commission Chairperson Reinhard Schneider and Christine Norrick disagreed, saying Loyola’s request was reasonable and the incremental impact — between Saturday afternoon and Friday night — on noise and traffic in the area would be minimal.
Commissioners Didier Glattard and Bradley Falkof were absent.
The Wilmette Village Board will take a first look at Loyola’s proposal, with the commission’s negative recommendation, on Nov. 14.
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