Selectmen, school board to discuss Greenwich High light issue

January 26, 2018

GREENWICH — The Board of Selectmen has set a late February date to discuss with the Board of Education the possibility of pursuing legal action to challenge an agreement that limits stadium light usage at Greenwich High School.

But the selectmen, who discussed the issue at length in a private meeting Thursday, have yet to tip their hand about whether they will give the go-ahead to litigation.

The school board in November authorized legal action to attempt to modify a 2003 agreement limiting use of the lights to 16 times per school year. A legal filing will not be made unless the selectmen follow suit.

The selectmen met with the town’s legal department in executive session on Thursday, after which they tentatively set a Feb. 22 meeting with the Board of Education to discuss the matter further. That meeting, too, is to be conducted in private executive session.

“It provides opportunity for membership of their board to hear firsthand the perspective from other people,” First Selectman Peter Tesei said on Thursday.

Tesei said his comments did not necessarily mean there is a difference in opinion about litigation between the Board of Education and Board of Selectmen.

“I wouldn’t read into that,” Tesei said.

On Thursday, Board of Education Chairman Peter Bernstein said his board will take part in the joint meeting.

“Given that the underlying agreement involves both the town and the Board of Education, there is for a need for discussion and coordination on potential legal strategies,” Bernstein said. “We continue to work with the first selectman and others to explore all possibilities related to safe, usable fields across Greenwich.”

The existing agreement governing usage of the lights is between the town and resident Bill Effros, a neighbor of GHS. Effros could not be reached for comment on the planned executive session.

Though the Feb. 22 meeting is to take place in executive session, any vote regarding the pursuit of legal action would have to be taken publicly.

Tesei said he could not predetermine whether a decision would be made following the Feb. 22 meeting. There was no immediate indication of when on that date and where the joint executive session will be held.

Tesei said the date was suggested by the Board of Education and all parties were available on it.

The question of the use of stadium lights at GHS has persisted for more than a decade. The lights were first installed in 2003 after a three-year battle between neighbors and the town that ultimately led to a legal compromise that allowed the lights to be installed but limited the number of times they could be used.

Effros has maintained the 2003 agreement has its roots in an earlier agreement from the 1960s when the school first opened on Hillside Road. Effros said homeowners and residents were told at the time that playing fields could only be used during the daytime, a condition they were told would be honored in perpetuity.

Town Attorney Wayne Fox has said he has not seen any document reflecting such an agreement. Greenwich Time could not find any record of it.

The question of lights usage has risen again during this school year given the adoption of new start and dismissal times at GHS. With school now dismissed an hour later, some sports teams are practicing in the dark during the late fall and winter.

Many parents have demanded that the Board of Education take action to try and amend the limits on light use.