POTTSTOWN >> Friday night football is coming back to Pottstown this fall.
With a unanimous vote Thursday night, the Pottstown School Board accepted a $250,000 grant delivered by state Sen. Robert Mensch, R-24th Dist., that will allow new field lights to be erected at the high school football stadium.
“The lights are back!” declared Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez.
The grant came about as the result of lobbying contact Mensch had with Rodriguez and local businessman Aram Ecker; as well as the fact that as the leader of the Republican Caucus in the state Senate, he had access to funds that other legislators do not.
“He told me he would not forget Pottstown,” said Ecker. “And here we have a politician who kept his word.”
Stephen Anspach, the district’s director of co-curricular activities, said Mensch will not only have a ticket to the first night game at the stadium this fall, “but to every game!”
Mensch, who was on hand at Thursday’s school board meeting for the announcement — along with the entire football team and the ever-present Trojan Man mascot — said he was impressed with the organization of the fundraising effort and the turnout for the announcement.
“Being in leadership, there are certain benefits, besides the long hours, and I got a call from the majority leader’s office and they said we have some money from the Department of Education in the form of a grant and we were wondering could you make use of that money?” Mensch said.
“And I said of course. And having had conversations with Mr. Rodriguez about the need for the lights, Pottstown was the first school district that came to mind,” he said. “Seeing the response here, it makes you feel good that once in a while, government can do something positive.”
Among those responding to the funding was board member Polly Weand, who has spearheaded the fundraising effort for three years and said in a voice quivering with emotion that “this is a another step in the revitalization of Pottstown.”
Moments later, she received a hug from her daughter Betsy.
“This is a re-kindling of the spirit of Pottstown,” said Weand, who did not run for reelection to the board in Tuesday’s primary election.
School board members thanked Weand and student member Courteney Parry noted that “I remember the first meeting I attended as a new board member, we talked about the lights and seeing your passion on this issue really helped me understand what being a board member is about.”
“We did it,” said football player Aaron Diamond, “and thank you. Thank you Sen. Mensch, thank you Mr. and Mrs. Weand for all that you do. And I also want to thank all the community of Pottstown. We came together and we did something really huge and brought back a great tradition.”
It’s been three years since that tradition has been in abeyance.
The lights were removed in 2014 after it was determined that the wooden poles holding them up were no longer structurally sound.
The school board at the time determined that $300,000 cost should not be born by local taxpayers when the district struggles financially, and instead a community fund-raising campaign — Save the Lights — was born and headed by Weand.
Lawn signs and T-shirts were sold, contributions received from the teachers federation, the Pottstown School Music Association, anonymous donors, the Foundation for Pottstown Education and all the students who paid $1 for “casual Fridays” so they could forego the required school uniform rules.
But no sooner did the district resolve the long-lingering issue of lights for one field, problems with another set of field lights were raised.
Kevin Owens, the president of the Pottstown Schools Music Association, outlined the necessity of replacing the aging lights that shine on the “auxiliary field” near the school’s tennis courts.
Replacement bulbs for those lights are no longer made or available and the scheduling problems that would ripple through the school and student activities without the lights are many, he said.
Because marching band practice begins in August, the lights are necessary for night practices to take place in the cooler part of the hot summer months.
Those night practices, which continue through the year, also allow band members to participate in athletics after school and still be in the band, Owens said.
However, unlike with the football field lights, a speedy solution may already be at hand.
School Board member Kurt Heidel reported that the school board’s facilities committee is recommending the auxiliary field lights be replaced as part of a broader outdoor security lighting project at the high school which facilities director Robert Krippelbauer secured at a cost of $146,653.
Heidel said initially he was opposed to the expenditure, but convinced to change his mind by Anspach’s explanation of all the benefits those lights provide to as many as 70 students who are in the marching band.
The board will vote on that expenditure at the Monday, May 22 meeting.
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