Anonymous donor gives Scottsdale school $500K for field lighting

Posted 4/2/21

Let there be light now that the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board has approved and accepted a donation toward installing lighting on Chaparral High School’s baseball and softball field.

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Anonymous donor gives Scottsdale school $500K for field lighting


Let there be light now that the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board has approved and accepted a donation toward installing lighting on Chaparral High School’s baseball and softball field.

Set to illuminate the area until about 10 p.m. with scheduled use, one Paradise Valley resident, Melissa McKusker, who lives beside the Chaparral High School baseball field’s west fence, stated she was in the “dark.”

Not only because her  neighborhood was considered a “dark skies community,” with no lights, but because she and many of her neighbors were allegedly excluded from offering input on the lighting project.

Shedding  light on the “incredibly generous gift"  she called “surreptitious,” she spoke during public comments at the SUSD Governing Board’s March 16 meeting months after the district’s reported communication efforts to inform neighbors before accepting the donation.

“I am here on behalf of the Tierra Feliz North community. We live adjacent to Chaparral High School and my husband and I have three children in the district. One goes to Cherokee and twins at Cocopah Middle School. We chose Scottsdale Unified School District because of the schools.

We live in the ‘Three Cs’ because we chose to make that commitment. As a result, we have a beautiful home. It’s on an acre. It happens to be right next to the baseball field and the baseball field currently has no lights,” said Ms. McKusker.

“Much to our community’s surprise, this was approved by the Governing Board in January. I don’t believe any of our community members were present at the Governing Board. I have myself spoken to over 97 community members in Tierra Feliz.

Absolutely not one of them is in agreement with this. We are in complete opposition. It will affect our property values. There are multi-million dollar homes in our community and now we will be blasted with light. We have no street lights. We are a dark skies community. There are absolutely no street lights.”

Describing how the lights will change the community’s dynamic, property values, traffic patterns and more, she noted problems with parents parking on the sidewalk to watch the baseball game over the fence.

“The entitlement of the donation that came from this seems very surreptitious. The fact that no community members were allowed to speak before it was approved also seems surreptitious. I would ask the Governing Board to reconsider this. You have an entire community,” Ms. McKusker said.

Stating the importance of an “appropriate relationship to have with the community that has been there since 1973," she  added how she knows community members have emailed the district about concerns.

“Again, not one community member attended a Governing Board meeting. There was a meeting on Jan. 7 that was supposedly a solicitation of public input. What it was was a sales pitch from the lighting company that was actually building it. At no time were we asked of our opinion.

We were just told how great the lights would be and that games would happen until 10 p.m. and that there was a great line of trees that actually was adjacent to the baseball fields that would help block the lights. Those are my trees. Please reconsider the decision. I know the community would really appreciate it and we appreciate the partnership with Scottsdale and we hope it’s remedied. Thank you.”

The Independent left a message for Ms. McKusker but did not receive a response prior to press time.

However, SUSD Governing Board President Jann-Michael Greenburg addressed “the criticism that the board did not solicit input.”

Reminding attendees in person and online, he highlighted that there is always a public comments section during board meetings to allow people to speak on various topics.

Several meetings led up up to accepting the gift for purchasing, installing field lights on the men’s and women’s baseball/softball fields at Chaparral High before the unanimous Jan. 19 Board decision approving a donation agreement and a donation capped at $500,000 from the Chaparral Firebirds Baseball Club's funding through  an anonymous, private donor for costs of providing baseball and softball field lighting systems.

Last November, there were discussions to communicate with neighbors about the proposed lighting project to be concurrently installed, starting with the baseball field that comes with a 25-year warranty to cover parts, labor, checking light levels, etc.

The process involved posting public ads announcing meetings and accepting the donation or not. From the high school principal to the athletic director and grounds keepers, details were shared including logistics like electrical/structural drawings, city plans/permits, donation policies, etc.

A community meeting was held on Thursday, Jan. 7, for interested community members consisting of the school’s neighbors and families before permitting the Chaparral Firebirds Baseball Club to work with the SUSD Building Services Department on plans to install the lighting on both fields simultaneously, according to a district staff report, detailing Qualite Sporting Lightening on the scope of work.

District administrators reviewed the purpose of the donation to ensure it met requirements of Governing Board policies regarding receiving public donations. Chaparral High School Principal Todd Dreifort even gave a presentation at the Jan. 19 meeting.

“We are here before you to request your approval to accept an incredibly generous gift of approximately $500,000 to place lights on the baseball and softball fields of Chaparral High School. And, this gift is anonymous,” Mr. Dreifort said to the board, adding he did not know who was making the donation.

Describing the baseball and softball fields as two of the best in the Valley, he said the baseball field was “named Field of the Year” by the National Baseball Coaches Association in 2013. Mr. Dreifort provided background that dated back to last November when Coach Troy Gerlach was approached with the idea.

“The biggest concern and the obvious concern from members of the community was light spillage,” said Mr. Dreifort, recalling notices  mailed to people within a half mile of the high school.

He added neighbors’ concerns were eased about the “revolutionary technology” when Qualite representatives described the project, which is expected to lessen the amount of class time missed for students who leave classes early to participate in games and practices during the early afternoon since baseball games “usually start about 3.”

Mr. Dreifort said moving games back to 6 p.m. would be beneficial so there is no class time missed, students can attend easier, go home and complete homework, then return. Plus, college coaches can attend.

“Games don’t have to be played during the heat of the day, which is another bonus. And, there’s also a financial benefit with all this because now we can rent out our field to Little League teams or youth camps or tournaments because these lights will now provide opportunities for them to play a little bit later into the evening. So, it’s a benefit for them too,” Mr. Dreifort said.

“So, basically this is a win-win for everybody. The donor one of these days will come forward and announce themselves.”

While the board did not oppose the much-appreciated gift, Patty Beckman, SUSD Governing Board member, asked Nathan Slater, athletic director, if there were any additional maintenance fees required of the district aside from what was normally provided for Chaparral’s lighting.

And, SUSD Governing Board Vice President Julie Cieniawski asked about the times the light would be on.

While he said likely the electric bill would be more, Mr. Slater was unsure what the additional costs were at the time but did state there would be “an additional expense since there is no ballfield lighting other than the football field,” and the LED lighting, he described as “super efficient, won’t be on all day.”

“The general time that we like to go by is 10 O’clock. On Friday nights for football, games start at 7 [p.m.] and we can generally, unless there is some kind of crazy overtime game, be off the field with the lights off by 10. For baseball, if it’s good baseball, we start at 6 o’clock. We can’t foresee us not being able to hit that goal,” he said, adding that was a concern from some community members.