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Testimony starts in lighting scenario

| Saturday, Oct. 25, 2008

Representatives from Southmoreland School District and Scottdale Borough, along with some borough residents gave testimony this week to the borough's zoning hearing board concerning exterior lights at the new Southmoreland Middle School.

Borough officials say the lights are in violation of the borough's nuisance ordinance. School district officials do not agree.

After three hours Thursday night, only three borough witnesses gave testimony. The zoning board has continued the hearing. No date was set. It will be advertised in area newspapers when determined.

Borough Manager Barry Whoric said last winter residents who live along Fountain Mills Road brought concerns about the school lighting to borough officials.

This past spring, residents presented council a petition with 31 names stating the lights were "objectionable." The residents complained the lights were creating unwanted glare.

Under direction from council, Whoric visited the area and found there was a problem, he said.

Whoric said he met with school district representatives but no resolution could be reached.

In August council sent a letter to the district stating the district was in violation of the borough's nuisance ordinance, specifically the section dealing with glare.

The district was given the option to fix the problem or ask for a hearing before the zoning board. The district chose the later.

Under questioning by the district's solicitor David Petonic, Whoric said he did not use any objective testing of the brightness of the lights other than his own perception.

Mark Stanton, who performs building inspections for the borough through the Central Westmoreland Council of Governments, said the lights were approved under building codes. Stanton said he did not use any International Energy Conservation Code standards, which addressed glare, in his review.

Larry Shirey, an electrical engineer consultant from Ligonier, testified he conducted his own study of the lights after contacted by borough solicitor John Toohey. He said he found the lights to create light that is the amount "typical of a full moon" shining on the back porch of one property along Fountain Mills Road. He also said the lights created excessive glare on that property and others on Arthur Avenue.

Shirey said he based his observations on the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America Handbook.

Shirey visited one of the homes on Fountain Mills Road and said he could make his way through the home with no problem even though all of the lights were turned off due to the amount of light shining through the windows from the school's exterior lights.

The lights on the middle school are considered noncutoff luminaries, which means they can shine from the ground up to the sky.

Shirey said that full cutoff luminaries might take care of the problem since they do not allow light to shine any higher than straight out from the light fixture and down to the ground.

He also thought an option could be to mount lights on a pole away from the building and shine them towards the building.

Under cross-examination Shirey agreed with Petonic that the borough's ordinance did not incorporate the referencing of any external standards such as the IESNA and was actually enacted before the IESNA handbook that Shirey had been referencing.

Shirey also agreed that on the Arthur Avenue side the lights on the school are significantly higher than the properties in the area and that a full cutoff luminary might not have any effect on those properties.

Petonic also asked if a shield or full cutoff light were used on the Fountain Mills Road, if the lights would still be effective.

Shirey said he was there to define the problem of glare not to give solutions to the problem.

Petonic said the purpose of the lights are to deter vandals and provide safety for individuals entering or exiting the building. He questioned Shirey if he did any studies on safety. Shirey did not.

Hearing board chairwoman Alverta Clawson asked Shirey if light reflectors would reduce the amount of light around the school. Shirey said it could reduce the light up to 30 percent.

Hearing board member Steve Matsey questioned whether having lights on poles at the end of the property shining towards the school would reduce the glare on properties.

Shirey said it would but the problem would be that a high-powered light would have to be used to provide the needed illumination around the perimeter of the school.

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