Top ten of 2017: Number 1 — Lights finally get action: facilities upgrades at Darien High
While the past year saw a number of noteworthy and exciting events in an around Darien, it seemed like updates at Darien High School drew most of the buzz. 2017 is the year when DHS varsity teams finally got the chance to play a home game at night, as stadium lights were erected over the summer in time for the school year. Every varsity team got a chance to host a night game, with the field hockey girls getting the honor of the being the first team ever to do so.
The story of the lights reaches back much further than 2017, as other attempts to put up lights tried and failed. Darien residents who live near DHS, school administrators, and the board of education had been unable to reach an agreement in past years when it came to lights. There was a concern about potential for criminal activity, lack of sufficient parking and security, and an impact on nearby property values from the lights that made the project difficult.
This year, a more open dialogue between those groups, along with the Darien Athletic Foundation, allowed for a much less contentious approach, ultimately resulting in a compromise that allowed the lights to go up. The compromise was specific about how many night games will be played each year, what days the lights can be used, and established a hard cut off time.
Each varsity team will have the opportunity to host at least one game under the lights. The night games this year were extremely well attended, and administrators and local law enforcement have not reported any major problems at the events. Superintendent Dr. Dan Brenner attended multiple night games this year, including the first evening football game, where he, Board of Education members, and DAF members were honored and thanked for working to get the lights erected.
Incredibly, the story of the lights did not end once the lights were built. During the local election season, First Selectman candidates Rob Richards and Jayme Stevenson were both accused of attempting to politicize the raising of the lights. Some in Darien believed Richards attempted to take sole credit for the lights going up, despite Richards simply saying he helped garner amicable discussions between DHS neighbors and school administrators, and kept those discussions from becoming contentious. Ultimately the lights being built was the result of efforts multiple town boards, local organizations, elected officials, volunteers, and donors.
With the lights finally complete, eyes now turn towards other facilities updates and issues around the district, many of them without the glamorous backdrop of athletics. This year the Board of Education will have to make challenging decisions about priority one capital projects around the district, particularly at Ox Ridge, which is in need of major updates and maintenance which could become extremely expensive. Budget season in Darien, particular for the Board of Education, has become an increasingly challenging one due to financial struggles at the state level that have left municipalities unsure of just how much aid can be expected.