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Alexandria plans to bring lights to more athletic fields, but some neighbors say lights bring more hassle

Alexandria City High School Friday Night Lights at Alexandria City High School on September 17, 2021. (Via Elijah Walter Griffin, Sr.)

Alexandria’s athletic fields could get new lights to keep games running later, but the prospect has already drawn backlash from some field neighbors 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 are part of a push by city government to extent the usable hours of the city’s overcrowded fields.

“We are faced with an increased capacity of all of our athletic programs in the city, both with ACPS and the community,” Browand said. “We are looking to utilize existing resources, which are not growing tremendously and maximize their return on investment. For every lighted field, specifically, those that are synthetic turf, you can add approximately 1100 hours of additional use. That’s an average of about 3 to 3.5 hours per night by having lights on the field.”

Browand said adding lights to the fields hits a few city goals, including expanding capacity for youth programs and providing equitable access to city facilities.

There are several options Browand presented for locations where fields could have lighting added, but some of those options are limited by other factors like construction timelines. The project also has budgetary constraints: it costs approximately $402,000 to light a field and the city has approved $804,000 to light two fields in FY 2023.

There are three fields Browand said the city can begin adding lights to as early as FY 2023:

  • Francis C Hammond Middle School, 4646 Seminary Road
  • George Washington Middle School, 1005 Mt. Vernon Avenue
  • Jefferson Houston K-8 School, 1501 Cameron Street

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) can’t be lighted until 2024 and 2025 respectively. Browand said construction is expected to start at Patrick Henry in summer 2023 to be finished in 2024.

Additionally, Browand said any proposal to add lighting to any location is still subject to special use permit approval and further funding considerations. Browand also said the lights would be designed with the goal of limiting the impact of lights beyond the field and surrounding track.

Alexandria is no stranger to controversies involving lights at athletic fields.

Most of the speakers at the meeting expressed reservations about the impact of lights on the neighborhood, both in terms of light pollution but also the potential of creating a post-sunset hangout location.

Susan Nelson, a neighbor near Francis C Hammond Middle School, said she and her daughter both play soccer in Alexandria but said she was opposed to lights on the field:

What we see, with our own eyes — this isn’t fake data or people running tests at random times during the day — is adults playing after hours, adults fighting, playing shirtless at a school, which would in most cases accused of inappropriateness around children, beer bottles, hard lemonade bottles, trash, abandoned cars. And that’s without lights. The shortage is a city created problem and now we’re going to push this through when people in this neighborhood don’t want it. We’re professionals. We already have problems with that field without the lights there. I don’t know who is letting their child out to practice at 10 p.m. at night… I can’t believe this is being brought up as a legitimate thing.

Browand said if lights went forward for fields at Alexandria City Public Schools locations, the city would work with school security to monitor the fields for that sort of activity and check for abandoned cars.

The proposal on lighted fields is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission and City Council in September/October.

According to the city website, additional meetings are scheduled for:

  • June 16: Park 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: Park & Recreation Commission Public Hearing at 7 p.m. (In person only) Patrick Henry Recreation Center, 4653 Taney Ave.

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