The Alexandria City Council has unanimously approved a plan to install lights on a handful of sports fields, but city leaders also acknowledged neighbors’ concerns about the project.
The plan is to eventually install new exterior lighting in five fields around the city, with these lights being progressively installed according to budget and construction schedules. Three of the fields could be illuminated from the 2023 financial year:
- Francis C Hammond Middle School, 4646 Seminary Road
- George Washington Middle School, 1005 Mt. Vernon Ave.
- Jefferson School Houston K-8, 1501 Cameron St.
The other two, Patrick Henry K-8 School and Recreation Center (4643 and 4653 Taney Avenue) and Eugene Simpson Stadium Park (426 East Monroe Avenue), cannot be illuminated until 2024 and 2025 respectively. The purpose of the lights is to extend the hours of use for some of the most crowded fields in the city.
The tone of Saturday’s city council meeting was more cooperative than other topics discussed about the city. While some civic discussions in Alexandria have been combative in the past, local residents’ organizations have been quick to point out areas of agreement with local sports organizations and define areas of compromise. The meeting brought together a cross section of lights supporters and some nearby residents against the lights, but a sizeable group of residents who supported the lights but had specific concerns about the lights exacerbating ongoing issues on the fields.
“Varsity Park members are not opposed to lights on the grounds, including at Hammond Middle School,” said Bill Rossello, president of the Seminary Hill Association, “but we have significant concerns that we believe do not have not been heard so far. All we got in return were indirect explanations from the staff.
Rossello said Hammond Field is frequently used by unauthorized adult groups throughout the year. Rossello echoed concerns shared by other neighbors who said their problems lay more with the management of field activities than the lights themselves.
“During the warm months, these groups often use the land until after dark,” Rossello said. “These groups are known to party from a football game, consume copious amounts of beer, play music from very loud speakers, set up food trucks on site and relieve themselves on the properties of residents across the street.”
Rossello said the Seminary Hill Association is asking:
- Use limited to authorized youth sports groups
- If activity is not permitted, lights remain off
- Bathrooms installed on site
- Recreation, parks and cultural activities staff monitor land use
- Garbage picked up early each day
- Rental to adult groups prohibited
In the end, city council unanimously approved the lights, but several council members said Saturday’s discussion was just the start of resolving issues with the use of the fields.
To previous meeting, the planning commissioners have raised concerns that it may be difficult for someone who has a problem with one of the fields to get a clear answer on who to direct those concerns to. One of the recurring points discussed was the need to have a telephone number at each site so that local residents or those using the fields have a clear point of contact for issues related to the use of the fields.
“I appreciate these questions regarding field management and monitoring,” Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said. “As these issues come up, I want to get back to…making sure the lights aren’t left on when they don’t need to be.”
Jackson also said there have been games on lit courts where the lights went out and it was unclear who to contact to turn them back on.
However, I also want to talk about the flip side: sometimes those lights go out in the middle of a game and I’ve been there when that happens,” Jackson said. “It’s confusing for players and parents, and no one can reach someone to turn on the lights. Again, this phone number comes in very handy. Broken hearts are left on the pitch if the lights are out and the game is not over.
Mayor Justin Wilson said the field use discussion will continue after approval as the project is implemented.
“I appreciate everyone who added insights to this conversation,” Wilson said. “We are working to address the concerns we have heard and I think as we move forward we will work to address any concerns that arise.”