Madison Edgewood High School wants to build a football stadium with lights, seats and amplified sound to host Friday night football games and other varsity events on its Monroe Street campus. Many neighbors are adamantly opposed to the idea, which they say will disrupt the neighborhood.
Last week, Ald. Allen Arntsen, who represents the neighborhood on the Madison City Council, suggested a compromise: build the stadium but limit its use. The president of Edgewood said the school is open to discussion, but some neighbors remain opposed to any stadium, regardless of the compromised terms.
“Compromising is really saying yes to the stadium in some ways, and we’re a firm no,” said Pat Alea, a steering committee member of the grassroots resident group No New Stadium.
The athletic department at Edgewood High School, the west side Catholic school, has wanted to host varsity home games “for decades." Without a stadium, Edgewood teams rotate their "home" games at several available fields, “resulting in significant travel, logistical hurdles, cost, and scheduling conflicts between Edgewood and visiting schools,” according to Edgewood's proposal.
Edgewood wants to replace 450 bleacher seats on its athletic field, now used primarily for practice and physical education classes, with a 1,000-seat stadium including restrooms, a press box and a concession area. The school plans to install LED lighting that would minimize “glare, light spill and sky glow” and a sound system that would direct noise into the stadium.
Edgewood must amend its master plan to go through with the project, and the amendment is slated to appear before the Madison Plan Commission on Jan. 14 and the City Council on Jan. 22. The school would like construction to start in the summer of 2019, so as to be ready for competition next fall.
The high school property touches the Dudgeon-Monroe and Vilas Neighborhoods. The Dudgeon-Monroe Neighborhood Association strongly opposes the proposal, saying that noise from the field is already disruptive and larger crowds, sound and lighting would only add to the disruption. The Vilas Neighborhood has voiced support for the project.
Arntsen thinks both sides have a point: Edgewood made a fair case for playing football games at home and neighbors are worried about their quality of life.
The “only effective way to balance that is to limit the number of events,” Arntsen said, though he said the exact number of lighted night events he proposed — five per year — was arbitrary. He also proposed freezing daytime field use at its current level.
He’s not married to the proposed terms, but thought it was important to start a discussion, he said.
Arntsen says he’s gotten a “mixed reaction” to his compromise proposal, with some telling him five events is very low and others accusing him of letting Edgewood walk over the neighborhood. But members of the City Council and Plan Commission were “supportive of the idea of a compromise,” he said.
“Whether that’s the right compromise or not, we’ll see,” Arntsen said.
Michael Elliott, president of Edgewood High School, said he was thankful for Arntsen's move to “jumpstart” negotiation.
“There wasn’t any conversation, it was kind of us wanting everything and the neighbors wanting nothing, and that's just not the way the process works,” Elliott said.
Elliott said that while the neighborhood and Edgewood needed a “little time to digest” Arnsten’s compromise, he’s eager to meet with the neighborhood for further discussions before the proposal goes to the Plan Commission.
Elliott pointed out that the school already made some concessions, like lowering the seat count from 1,300 to 1,000, and is talking to other schools to see if they could move up start times so that soccer and lacrosse games would be done at 8:30 p.m.
Limiting nighttime field use to just five football games isn’t possible because of conference requirements, Elliott said, and there are other considerations like gender equity.
“I would have a hard time going to our girls soccer team and saying, ‘Oh the boys get their football field but you don't get to play at all for soccer on our home field,’” Elliott said. “That wouldn't go over big.”
But the number of night games will likely be much less than the proposed maximum of 40, he said. That number of games would only be played if every Edgewood team was ranked first in the state and played all state playoff games at home. Looking at how teams have fared in the last few years, a more realistic number is between 23 and 25 night games, he said, and not all would use lights, depending on the season.
Arntsen’s “desire to seek middle ground” is appreciated, said Rachel Fields, vice president of DMNA, in a statement, but his proposal is “not a true compromise.”
“Rather, it's a move that advances Edgewood’s proposal and sets the stage for long-term disruption to the neighborhood,” she wrote.
In her statement, she said the five-game nighttime limit will likely be expanded after the Master Plan expires in 2025, with “the investment already made and the precedent established.” And daytime use is already too disruptive, she said.
Other neighbors — like a grassroots resident group with about 50 members known as No New Stadium — are opposed to the idea of any compromise.
“It’s a foot in the door,” Alea said “They’re going to keep pushing for what they want ... we fully expect we will have years and years of fighting this back.”
As evidence of this, she said the high school is currently proposing to amend its master plan just a few years after it was approved in 2014.
She said members have “deep concerns” about the environment and livability of residents.
“There’s a constant cry of ‘NIMBY’ (Not In My Backyard), but really, the stand we take is a stadium is not appropriate in a close residential area, so it shouldn't be in anybody’s backyard,” Alea said.