On a beautiful Thursday in Missoula, hikers climbing to the “M” on Mount Sentinel got more entertainment than they bargained for.
Down below, workers in hard hats toiled diligently, lifting eight tall metal poles holding banks of lights into their permanent locations on the outside of Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
With University of Montana students on spring break, workers had room for a crane to hoist each pole one-by-one into its permanent place just in time for the Grizzly football team’s spring scrimmage on Saturday, April 14.
Night games have always added a level of excitement for Griz football fans during the playoffs. To accommodate regional and national television time slots, ESPN in the past has picked up the tab for temporary lights.
Not anymore. Lights are now a permanent fixture of UM’s football stadium.
Campus Drive has been closed since Monday because of the construction, but should reopen on Friday, said Chuck Maes, associate athletic director of internal operations.
Each light pole lifted into place on Thursday holds between 18 and 22 lights facing the field. Some poles also have four lights facing the opposite direction to shine on the tailgate areas. Eventually, two smaller light poles will be added in the tailgate area.
UM raised private dollars for the $1 million project, which began about a year ago, Maes said. The university announced plans to install permanent lights in the stadium last November.
The university purchased the lights from Musco Sports Lighting, an international company based out of Oskaloosa, Iowa. It’s the same company UM has relied on in the past to install temporary lights for playoff games.
The lighting system is sophisticated, Maes said. He and several other UM employees will learn how to operate the system – if necessary, via smartphone.
UM will not run the lights past 10 p.m., he said. The lights can be put on a timing system, which means they automatically turn on and off.
During team practices in the stadium, UM can choose to only turn on two-thirds of the lights, Maes said.
During games, UM will use all of the lights and manually turn them on and off so they don’t turn off before the game clock runs out.
Musco can remotely monitor maintenance needs from Iowa and promised to fix burned-out light bulbs at no charge for the next 25 years, Maes said.
Fans who have attended night games in Washington-Grizzly Stadium won’t notice a large difference between these lights and the temporary lights, but the bulbs installed this week are more precisely targeted at a certain part of the field. The lights are directed in a way to eliminate spillover into areas outside the stadium, Maes said.
“It will be brighter,” he said. “It’s like lighting a room with a spotlight instead of floodlights.”
The university is trying to make the Griz spring scrimmage feel more like a game than a scrimmage, Maes said. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 14. Tailgating begins at 4 p.m. Tickets cost $5 per person. All the proceeds from the scrimmage will go to improve UM athletic facilities, such as an athlete academic center, a new locker room and eventually a new weight room.