School neighbors gain noise relief from band

Urbana High must move practices or reduce volume

October 19, 2001|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

A Frederick County couple has succeeded in quieting a boisterous high school marching band whose booming bass drum made the trinkets rattle on their bedroom shelves.

A settlement finalized yesterday in Frederick County Circuit Court says Urbana High School must "address the problems and issues" arising from the noise complaints of Paul and Brenda Geisbert, who live near a parking lot where the band practices.

The consent decree, signed by attorneys from both sides, does not specify how the school is supposed to bring the volume down, but says some remedy must be in place within six months.

Members of the band, called the Mighty Eagles, consider their music a reflection of the school's spirit. They are one of the top bands in the mid-Atlantic region, and the school's football team is a three-time defending state champion.

But to the Geisberts, the blaring horns and pounding percussion are "unwarranted and excessive noise," according to a lawsuit they filed last year. "Engaging in band practice adjacent to the plaintiff's property creates an actual discomfort to persons of ordinary sensibilities," the complaint said.

"We'd sit at the table with the windows down and someone would say, `Please pass the mashed potatoes,'" Paul Geisbert said this year. "I'd say, `What?'"

The Geisberts say they have raised three children on the two-thirds-acre tract over the past 26 years. The high school, built to relieve crowding in other county schools, was completed five years ago.

The settlement averted a trial that was to have begun yesterday. It could mean the band has to move its practices to a new location, perhaps to the other side of the school building, away from the Geisberts' home. Or the band could take other steps, not specified in the settlement, to bring the volume near the home down to what the state considers an acceptable level - 65 decibels in the daytime and 55 decibels at night.

Readings at the site have exceeded 65 decibels during practice, according to attorneys on both sides.

"I'm not sure how they're going to comply. There really are no easy answers," said Michael J. McAuliffe, an attorney for the school system. "The kids are disappointed."

One solution might be to flatten a section of curb so band members can roll their heavy instruments on carts to a new practice spot farther from the house, said Michael Darrow, an Annapolis lawyer representing the Geisberts. Under the decree, the couple agreed to pitch in $1,000 to help the school pay for such modifications.

"I think in the end everybody recognized there was a problem here and was reasonable in resolving it," Darrow said.

But McAuliffe said: "It's not like they can pick up their trumpets and go to the other side of the school. They've got very heavy instruments, some of which are not mobile. You're talking about 600 or 700 yards up a hill."

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