Alexandria’s sports fields could become new lights to continue playing later, but the prospect has already drawn backlash from some neighbors on the pitch who say the lights only create more of a nuisance.
In a community meeting last week, Jack Browand, division chief of parks and cultural activities, said the lights were part of a push by the city government to extend the usable hours of the city’s crowded fields.
“We are facing increased capacity of all of our sports programs in the city, both with CSPA and the community,” Browand said. “We are looking to use existing resources, which are not growing very much, and to maximize their return on investment. For each lit pitch, especially those with synthetic turf, you can add approximately 1100 hours of additional use. That’s an average of about 3-3.5 hours per night with lights on the pitch.
Browand said adding lights to the fields accomplishes a few city goals, including expanding capacity for youth programs and providing equitable access to city facilities.
There are several options presented by Browand for locations where fields could be lit, but some of these options are limited by other factors such as construction timelines. The project also has budget constraints: it costs about $402,000 to light one field, and the city has approved $804,000 to light two fields in fiscal year 2023.
According to Browand, the city can begin adding lights as early as FY2023:
- Francis C Hammond Middle School, 4646 Seminary Road
- George Washington Middle School, 1005 Mt. Vernon Ave.
- Jefferson School Houston K-8, 1501 Cameron St.
Two other fields, one at Patrick Henry K-8 School and Recreation Center (4643 and 4653 Taney Avenue) and Eugene Simpson Stadium Park (426 East Monroe Avenue) cannot be lit until 2024 and 2025 respectively . Browand said construction is expected to start at Patrick Henry in the summer of 2023 and finish in 2024.
Additionally, Browand said any proposal to add lighting at any location is still subject to special use permit approval and other funding considerations. Browand also said the lights would be designed with the aim of limiting the impact of the lights beyond the field and the surrounding track.
Alexandria is no stranger to controversies over sports field lighting.
Most of the speakers present at the meeting expressed reservations about the impact of the lights on the neighborhood, both in terms of light pollution but also the potential for creating a meeting place after sunset.
Susan Nelson, a neighbor near Francis C Hammond Middle School, said she and her daughter both play soccer in Alexandria, but she was averse to the lights on the field:
What we are seeing, with our own eyes – this is not fake data or people testing at random times of the day – this is adults playing after hours, adults fighting, play shirtless in a school, which would in most cases be accused of inadequacy around children, beer bottles, hard lemonade bottles, garbage, abandoned cars. And it’s without lights. Scarcity is a problem created by the city and now we are going to pass this when people in this neighborhood don’t want it. We are professionals. We’re already having trouble with that field without lights there. I don’t know who lets their kid practice at 10pm at night… I can’t believe this is presented as a legit thing.
Browand said if lights come on for Alexandria City public school fields, the city would work with school security to monitor the fields for this type of activity and check for abandoned cars.
The lit fields proposal is expected to go to the Planning Commission and City Council in September/October.
According to the city’s website, additional meetings are scheduled for:
- June 16: Parks and Recreation Commission at 7 p.m. (in person only) Charles Houston Recreation Center, 901 Wythe St.
- June 21: Community meeting #2 at 7 p.m.
- July 21: Parks and Recreation Commission Public Hearing at 7 p.m. (In person only) Patrick Henry Recreation Center, 4653 Taney Ave.