Nearly a dozen high school students and community members waited their turn to speak at Monday night’s borough council meeting, only to find the State College Area High School marching band could remain on site at their current practice location and continue at their current practice times.
The decision isn’t what either side wanted – the group’s supporters have demanded more practice time; neighbors pleaded for less due to noise and lights – but the borough council eventually allowed last year’s operating agreement to continue for another year. A compromise could still be found in the meantime.
“We will talk about it; we are going to find a solution that works,” Mayor Ezra Nanes said. “Because we don’t want anyone to leave feeling mad and angry and really unsupported. So let’s find out.
The current agreement, which the board has chosen not to terminate, means that the marching band will be allowed to train twice a week at the South Track facility, with an end time of 8 p.m. one day and a time off. end at 8:30 p.m. the other. (The district wanted two end times at 8:45 p.m.; some neighbors requested that practice end at 8 p.m. one day and the group find a different location for the next day.)
Nearby residents complained that the twice-weekly two-hour practices between August and October sometimes made their homes near the South Track facility nearly unlivable. But parents in the State College Area School District showed little sympathy, pointing out that — newer practice location or not, louder music or not — the owners chose to live near a high school.
For decades, the marching band practiced in the south parking lot without issue. But that practice spot was eliminated during construction and renovation — and, even though it wasn’t, a school board official hinted that this setup would no longer be acceptable. Something had to change.
“When I joined the school board, I learned that the marching band marched on asphalt. This is unacceptable,” said Amy Bader, vice chair of the board. “It’s a health risk. It causes shin splints. It was unfair to these students. For a long time, SCASD prioritized athletics and did not give the group fair treatment.
Some neighboring owners said their own children participated in the 130-member marching band and complimented their music. But, they added, they’re not trying to dissolve them — they’re just trying to move them to another location, further away from homes and neighbors.
“I could write an essay about how much I loved the band and the positive influence it had on our child. This approach misses the point,” said Curtis English, who lives in Edgewood Circle, the area most affected by the group “It is not acceptable to train several hundred meters from our home several times a week with the ultimate goal of having no restrictions on this ground.”
Monday’s decision appears to be more of a short-term fix than a long-term one. Not only is neither party celebrating the move, but the school district has basically began a process of several months this – if successful – would allow the marching band and other bands to use the South Track facility until 11 p.m., if no other exceptions are made.
The SCASD is asking the Borough’s Planning Commission to hear its arguments to eliminate the need for an operating agreement. Without it, the band could practice until existing ordinances permit, which is probably around 11 p.m. The commission could then propose a recommendation to the borough council.
A lot could still change in the coming months.
“To be continued,” Nanes said at the end of Monday’s discussion.