Athletic fields

UPDATE: Sports field lighting plans highlight city management concerns


Field lighting proposal at Hammond Middle School (image via City of Alexandria)

Update 5:45 PM – Proponents of pitch lighting tell ALXnow that the interests of neighbors and football players aren’t necessarily in competition and share some overlapping concerns about pitch management.

Earlier: A plan for bring new light at sports grounds around Alexandria has seen a clash of supporters – who say the lights are needed to extend playing hours – against landlords concerned about the ramifications of new nighttime activity next door.

Last week the Urban planning committee voted unanimously in favor of the new lights project, which will now go to city council on Saturday, November 12.

The plan is to eventually install new exterior lights on five lots around the city, with these lights being phased in 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 lit 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.

There were around 20 speakers at the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday November 1, with a fairly even split between parents and local football fans with the Alexandria Football Association (ASA) sharing their support for the lights and neighbors concerned that existing issues such as litter and public urination will only get worse with the lights creating extended hours.

Supporters of the lights said they would help alleviate some of the problems faced by local teams battling for a handful of evening spots.

“[The lights] providing better access to healthy places to play, which has a positive impact on the community,” said ASA Coach Jim Hogan. “As one of 200 volunteer coaches who have supported more than 180 teams this fall, the location and times of midweek practices are very difficult for working parents when they start at 4 p.m., 4:30 p.m. or 5 p.m. . Evening hours are so popular that we cannot provide every team and program with a 6pm start time.

Hogan said there are parents who want to volunteer on local teams but can’t because practice times are too early.

Terry Androus, director of the ASA, said the lights were intended to enhance public safety for children in the area.

“I support adding lights to all suggested fields,” Androus said. “Youth sports are an essential element in developing healthy and productive citizens. The children will be somewhere after dark; it’s best to have them in a structured environment on land rather than wandering around in places where trouble can find them. Let’s provide a safe place to play after dark: it makes sense. »

But neighbors adjoining the fields where the lighting is proposed said there were unresolved issues in the town plans. Carter Flemming, President of the Hill Seminary Associationsaid neighbors are currently experiencing loud music, litter and other nuisance from adults playing in nearby fields and are concerned that adding overtime will only make the problems worse.

“Hammond Middle School is within our boundaries and we are well aware of the issues in this area, even without lighting,” Flemming said. “while I know [Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities] states that the approval tonight is only for the installation of lights, I think it behooves you to deal with the ramifications of such lights. say that [special use permit] is only to build streetlights 60 feet high, it ignores the reality of what those streetlights will mean to surrounding residents.

Flemming pointed to a Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities (RPCA) memo in October that acknowledged there were significant issues raised by neighbors near Hammond Middle School, but said they were operational problems and not the result of the lighting in the field.

“And yet RPCA is asking to add lights without having any plans to fix these known issues,” Flemming said. “No developer could come to PC and say ‘I submitted a [special use permit] to build four 60-foot high walls, but I don’t have to deal with any other issues that may arise from my project.

Neighbors testified at the meeting to trash left strewn around fields after football games, sharing photos of sidelines littered with debris despite assurances from city staff that fields were checked and cleared before each day of play. ‘school.

Others said that during and after games, players on the pitch use nearby courtyards and streets as public urinals. Parks and Cultural Activities Division Manager Jack Browand agreed that while two of the grounds should have publicly accessible restrooms, the others do not.

“Toilets have been a hot topic,” Browand said. “As part of the capital improvements, we are assessing where the restroom use might be. These are things we are looking at as we move forward and make improvements.

Flemming and other neighbors said they would support the use of field lights only for youth sports.

“Adult recreation creates an entirely different situation from youth sports and should be geared towards [other fields] that don’t affect residents,” Flemming said.

Another concern, shared by some members of the Planning Commission, was that the multiple organizations all linked to overseeing the fields could make it harder for residents to find a department to log into and hold accountable for maintenance issues.

After the public comment, Browand clarified that the grounds would only be lit for pre-arranged sporting events scheduled by permit, giving the city some level of control over who plays on the grounds and who is responsible if litter is left behind. behind.

Planning Commissioner David Brown delved into liability issues for the fields, saying he understood concerns that – when problems occur on the fields – residents will find municipal services pointing fingers at each other others.

“As I understand it, the city is responsible for garbage collection,” Brown said. “Recreation and parks people are responsible for monitoring usage and making sure the lights are turned off. During the school day, Alexandria City Public Schools are responsible for policing the facilities, possibly with police assistance. That’s a lot of cooks in this stew. What I would like is reassurance, at least insofar as this process has been underway in a number of areas for some time: is it working properly so that if something goes wrong it is quickly corrected? »

Despite those concerns, Brown said the Planning Commission’s vote ultimately isn’t about whether the lights are a good idea or whether the city is currently doing a good job of managing parks. : only if the project meets zoning requirements.

Other commissioners said they acknowledged neighbors’ complaints, but saw the lights as achieving a greater good.

“While I’m sensitive to what adults look like irresponsible neighbours, I think it’s important not to overlook the need to provide recreational activities for adults,” Planning Commissioner Melissa McMahon said. . “Adults tend to work more than they should and tend to have a lot of stress. We may not focus as much as adults on developing our own social skills and how to get along with each other as we teach those skills to our children, and team sports are the one of our best tools for this.

In the end, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 in favor of the lights.

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