Published: Apr 24, 2012 06:00 PM
Modified: Apr 24, 2012 10:42 AM
This fall, the sights and sound of Friday night football will arrive for the first time at Cary Christian School. Less than 15 years after lessons started in trailers, the school is adding a field house and tall lights to its permanent campus.
The new construction won’t just bring a concession stand and a weight room. It could foreshadow a seven-year plan to grow the school’s enrollment by 300 students.
“We can’t take that many more students unless we’re committed to expanding. Most of our seats are full,” said Gene Liechty, director of marketing and development for Cary Christian. The long-term expansion plan could cost $3 million and grow enrollment by more than a third, he said.
But that first after-dark game this fall could highlight a problem for the 800-student school and its neighbors. Cary Christian’s buildings and fields are only a couple hundred feet from homes in the Westfield and Castlebrook subdivisions.
The school’s nascent expansion plans remain largely unknown in the neighborhood, but news of the field lights and clubhouse alone was enough to draw 30 residents to a recent meeting with the school at Town Hall. Many worry that crowds and cheers will spill from after-dark football games into their neighborhood.
“We’re talking about a loud football game, with people screaming, and the big P.A. announcer,” said Michael Bird of Castlefern Drive. “They’re afraid of not just the noise but the traffic, the trash.”
Neighbors’ concerns about night games, Liechty said, are a result of the school’s central Cary location. Former councilman Herb Young kept the land vacant for decades as neighborhoods grew up around it. By the time he sold it to Cary Christian, the property bordered a dozen residential lots.
“We’re kind of hemmed in. We’re trying to build something in the middle of the city,” Liechty said.
Several nearby residents said they’ve had a good relationship with the school, but the question of Friday night football has rankled some. They don’t have any legal power to stop the school’s football plans, so they’re asking Cary Christian to limit the frequency of games and keep them from going too late.
School officials say they’ll install special lights that direct illumination toward the field, but they’re hesitant to formally limit game times or schedules.
“We certainly don’t want to stretch a game until one or two in the morning ... but a hard (deadline) is difficult to manage,” said football coach and upper-grade principal Dell Cook. The school is unsure how often it will play night games this year, he said. Cary Christian typically plays ten football games at home each fall. The school may also play soccer games after dark.
The football friction could portend more arguments down the road as the school looks to add to its campus.
The neighbors want to talk. “I would like them to communicate with the neighborhood better,” Bird said. He wants the school to ask how it can minimize its impact on neighbors, he said.
The school will navigate those close quarters with some Biblical advice, Liechty said. “As we seek to expand the vision of the school, we’re also trying to love our neighbors,” he said.