Wednesday, April 23, 2014
By Leslie Bridgers firstname.lastname@example.org
When the lights at Westbrook's Olmsted Field were deemed dangerous and removed last fall, the high school had to move a marching band competition and the homecoming football game.
Parents of soccer players had to choose between working and attending their sons' games, which were rescheduled earlier in the day.
"I hated seeing that," said Ray Richardson, whose son was a senior on the team.
Then, he found out there was no plan to replace the lights.
"I figured if I could do something to make that happen, I ought to," said Richardson, a morning radio talk show host on WLOB.
A few weeks ago, Richardson contacted city officials. If he could raise $50,000, he asked, would they be willing to match it? The answer was yes. He went to the school department with the same offer and got the same answer.
Last week, the School Committee approved matching the money. On Monday, the City Council gave initial approval to match $50,000, and to allow donations from the Recreation and Conservation Commission for $5,000 and from the Westbrook Environmental Improvement Corp. for $15,000.
Including those donations, Richardson has raised $41,500.
"I'm just beating the bushes here. If anybody has any spare change, we need another nine grand," he said.
Unless that money is raised, the school department won't move forward with installing new lights, said Superintendent Marc Gousse.
"Until then, we're on hold," he said.
Gousse said he didn't include funding for lights at the field in his budget for this year because the department had higher-priority needs in technology and security.
Also, the School Committee had already approved spending about $100,000 to replace the field's visitors' bleachers, which became unusable over a year ago.
The 40-year-old lights were removed in October, after a maintenance worker found one of the fixtures dangling from a rotted wooden beam. An inspection revealed that the wooden beams on all six of the 60-foot light posts were in poor condition.
Gousse said the school department got an estimate from Musco Lighting that the lights would cost $150,000 to replace. Once a contract is signed, he said, they could be installed within 38 days.
As of now, Gousse said, fall sports and activities are scheduled with the assumption that there will be no lights on the field. But, he said, that wouldn't be hard to change.
Richardson said he has nothing personal to gain from getting lights on the field. His two youngest daughters don't play sports that use them.
"My family is not affected by this, other than we love Westbrook," he said.
Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: