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Parks Department braces for strain on system when Minnie Howard field closes down

Minnie Howard field, via Google Maps

As the city and schools prepare for the process of overhauling Minnie Howard as part of the expanded Alexandria City High School, the Parks Department braces to go two years without access to one of the city’s most well-equipped fields on the school grounds.

At a meeting of the School Board and City Council, Jack Browand, division chief of Parks and Cultural Activities, fielded questions from City Council member John Chapman and Mayor Justin Wilson about how the city will fare without one of the most heavily used fields.

“[Activities] will be redistributed throughout the system,” Browand said, “but as everybody is aware, there isn’t another site like Minnie Howard.”

Browand said activities will be put on other fields, more will be pushed to weekends, and the city will do its best to utilities the existing infrastructure — but Browand said there’s no getting around the fact that fact that it’s going to hurt.

The strain on other parks should be relieved, somewhat, by plans to add a synthetic turf and lighting to Armistead L. Boothe Park (520 Cameron Station Blvd). Browand said the city hopes to have that field online by early 2022 to relieve the stress when construction starts at Minnie Howard around the same time.

Browand said the significance of Minnie Howard is in both its size and amenities.

“Minnie Howard has a restroom facility, parking, synthetic turf and lights,” Browand said. “Not every field has all of those attributes. There are fields with synthetic turf but no light, or fields that are grass but with lighting, and you have to be mindful of pushing the limits to those with maintenance.”

It isn’t a simple thing, Browand said, to add lights to an existing field.

Tell us about it,” Wilson quipped.

Browand said lighting isn’t as important in the summer, but activities in the fall and winter often require lighting with earlier sunsets. Browand also said the the Parks Department cannot use the lighting at the Parker-Gray Stadium at Alexandria City High School per agreement with neighbors.

“This field is going to go offline next spring,” Browand said. “It’s going to take a little time for us to consider lighting existing facilities that don’t have lights, that’s not going to be a short process, but we are looking at every avenue and we may resort to renting lights, because the need will change throughout the year.”

Options being considered are adding temporary lights at the Francis C. Hammond Middle School and Jefferson-Houston, both synthetic fields with ample parking, but no lights.

Browand said options will be presented to the Parks and Recreation Commission later this month.

“We’re going to have to get creative,” Browand said.

Photo via Google Maps

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