HAMMONTON — A decision about whether St. Joseph Catholic High School can light its Wood Street football field and hold up to six night games a year there is expected at tonight’s Planning Board meeting.
The board is scheduled to vote on final plans to handle the traffic-safety issue, including banning street parking within two blocks of Wood Street during games and requiring all parking be on fields inside the recreation complex.
The plan also allows for overflow parking at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Society lot on Third Street, almost a mile away, and requires the school fund at least six police officers to handle traffic and pedestrian crossings around the site.
Town Council passed a resolution in favor of the plan at its July 22 meeting, but only if police Chief Robert Jones has final say over which games can be played at night. Jones said at that meeting he would not allow games that attract larger audiences, such as those against Hammonton and Holy Spirit high schools, to be played at night there.
The football field is not located next to the school, as most high school football fields are, but in a quiet neighborhood around Second and Wood streets.
Some residents favor the lighting plan, saying it provides a wholesome Friday night activity for familie, and allows football players to avoid playing in high temperatures on Saturday afternoons.
Others who live nearby oppose it, citing safety issues related to having hundreds of cars come through in the dark.
Representatives of the school and the group that has been raising funds for four, 70-foot tall athletic field lights will present a public safety plan at tonight’s meeting. The plan was required when the Planning Board gave conditional approval to install the lights in 2008.
It has taken the group five years to come back to the Planning Board with a plan it believes meets more than a dozen requirements.
The drive to install lights began in 2002 when Kathy Simon, of Monroe Township, Gloucester County, started the Spirit of Light LLC, in memory of her son Norman, a St. Joseph graduate and football player who died in a car accident in 2001 at age 24. The group also wanted to memorialize four other alumni and football players who died too soon, by installing lights on the St. Joseph Wildcats’ field.
Spirit of Light has since merged with the Red & White Gridiron Club, a booster club for the St. Joseph Wildcats.
St. Joseph High School had long used the Wood Street field for practice, and began using it for its game field in 1992, said spokesperson Anne Liberto. Prior to that it had used the Hammonton High School field for games.
Liberto said the school acquired the Vine Street field, now used as the Wildcats’ practice field, with its 2004 purchase of the former Hammonton Middle School. But that field, with easy access to downtown parking and the right to put lights in guaranteed, needed too much work.
“The Vine Street field was not large enough to be a regulation playing field,” she said. “We would have had to do a major reworking of the site to make it a football field.”
She said the school felt its funds would be better spent renovating the school itself, since it already had a regulation field at Wood Street.
If approved tonight, work will likely start this year and the first games under the lights will be played during the 2014 season, representatives have said.
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