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Rock Hill schools to spend $288,000 on stadium upgrades

With an eye toward getting more sporting events on television, Rock Hill school officials plan to upgrade the lighting system at District Three Stadium.

Over time, the stadium's 25-year-old system has lost strength. As a result, officials said, the lights during night games have dimmed well below a widely accepted standard of illumination for stadiums of similar size - even after the bulbs are changed.

The district is spending between $40,000 and $50,000 extra to brighten the lights beyond that standard to a level suitable for televised games, said Brian Vaughan, district facilities manager. The project is expected to cost $288,000 total.

Associate Superintendent Tony Cox said it's an investment in the district's largest arena, which hosts football and soccer for two of its three high schools as well as band performances.

"District Three Stadium is the biggest athletic asset we have," Cox said. "We use that stadium for an awful lot of things beside football. ... It's consistent with the overall economic thrust of this area as a sports tourism destination."

Better lighting means flexibility to host a variety of events, he said.

Rock Hill's aspirations include cashing in on a growing national appetite for coverage of high school sports.

TV stations, newspapers and websites have in recent years been paying more attention to high school athletics.

Rock Hill has gotten a taste of that.

Earlier this year, former South Pointe High football standout Jadaveon Clowney announced live on ESPN which college he would attend.

Former Northwestern High quarterback Justin Worley was featured in publications across the country and even invited to ESPN's annual ESPY award ceremony.

Last August, ESPN televised two games at District Three Stadium - Byrnes' 14-0 loss to Hoover, Ala., and Northwestern's 42-20 victory over rival South Pointe.

But those games were played during the day. Under the current lights, that kind of exposure wouldn't be possible for a night game, Vaughn told school board members at a meeting last month.

More 'foot candles'

Stadium lights' brightness is measured in "foot candles." A typical living room with lights on at night would emit roughly 10 foot candles. At around 200 foot candles, most people squint.

Fifty foot candles is a widely accepted standard for most high school football stadiums, said David Barker, vice chairman of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America's sports lighting committee.

An analysis by an outside firm shows that lighting at District Three Stadium one night last month averaged between 12 foot candles and 25.

When the project is complete, the stadium will be at 75 foot candles.

South Carolina's High School League, the sanctioning body for high school sports, doesn't require or even suggest a brightness level for stadiums.

"We don't get involved in it," said Bruce Hulion, the League's commissioner of officials. "It varies all over the state, from some that look like you're playing in daylight and others that look like you're playing in a closet."

Unanimous support

The Rock Hill school board last month voted unanimously to upgrade the stadium lights as part of a $5 million bond package of maintenance and technology projects around the district.

While he supported it, board member Jim Vining questioned the need for 75 foot candles at one stadium but not others.

"My issue was consistency," said Vining, dismissing the argument that Rock Hill should have more lighting because of TV. "You can't justify spending $50,000 just for a TV contract that you don't know you're going to get."

Vining said he felt comfortable supporting the project after talking with a consultant who recommended brightening the lights above the minimum standard.

With some 9,000 seats, District Three Stadium is the largest of Rock Hill schools' 17 facilities with sports lighting.

Cox said his staff is evaluating all district facilities to create a consistent lighting plan.

In addition to brighter lights, the construction project for District Three Stadium includes adding a fifth light pole to illuminate dark areas and new energy-efficient controls.

Cox expects that to save the district more than $10,000 per year in operating costs after the project is completed in 2012.