Flames look north for lights

When the Northgate Flames football team talks about home field advantage this season, they won’t be talking about Alumni Field on Sheridan Avenue. To keep playing under lights on Friday nights, the team will move its games to J.C. Stone Field in North Park.

An analysis of the poles and lighting system at the Sheridan Avenue field found structural deficiencies in the poles that hold the lighting and carry power lines along the field. According to Greer Hayden of the architectural/engineering firm HHSDR, the tops of the poles show significant degradation. Hayden said that one of the poles – which are more than 70 years old – showed a 37-inch difference in alignment between the top of the pole and the bottom. Cracks ranging from one to four inches wide were observed in some poles.

`According to Hayden, an electrical engineering firm and Duquesne Light Company both said that the lights and poles need to be removed to eliminate the danger that one of the poles could fall or split, and bring several more poles down because of the connecting wires. Of special concern are the poles on the home side of the field, where the new metal bleachers were literally built around the existing poles. There, the field wires were placed too close to Duquesne Light lines, raising concerns about worker safety, Hayden said.

He reported to the Northgate School Board Monday that Duquesne Light has agreed to remove two entire poles and remove two others to bleacher level at a cost of $4,000. The lowest bid obtained by HHSDR for pole and light removal was $58,000. It would take at least two months to replace the poles and lights, Hayden said.

With various students and parents advocating for various options, the board considered moving the four home games to another field on Friday nights, playing home games on Saturdays, or renting lighting and a sound system for the Sheridan Avenue field.

Renting lights was ruled out rather quickly, as the cost ranged from about $25,000 to as much as $52,000 just for football season. There also were concerns about player safety because of how close to the field the lights would need to be placed. Head football coach T.J. Wiley said that in his experience, the temporary lighting did not provide sufficient illumination for the field.

The choice then was between Saturday games or adopting another “home field” for the season. Sentiment was strong on both sides and weighed heavily in the decision made by the board.

Wiley told the board that moving games to Saturdays could affect the team both physically and mentally, and per has threaten the future of the football program. Going from a Saturday game one week to a Friday game the next means the team loses a day of preparation, he said, adding, “Saturday is going to be a huge mistake.” He noted that players have already scheduled jobs and college visits for weekends, and some coaches would not be available on all Saturdays.

On the other side were students and parents who wanted the tradition of playing on their own field, and ringing the bell after a win.

Also weighing in were parents who pointed to the expense of providing “Friday Night Lights” for four home football games.

The board had received rental fees for two fields: J.C. Stone at $4,010 per game, and Avonworth’s Lenzner Field, at $3,016 per game. Both options would mean the district would incur transportation costs.

The board ultimately voted unanimously to play the season’s first three home games at J.C. Stone Field, and return to Sheridan Avenue for the final game, at which seniors will be honored, on a Saturday afternoon. They are expected to make a decision regarding the band festival hosted by Northgate at next Monday’s meeting.