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City Council approves plan for new lights across five athletic fields

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

The Alexandria City Council unanimously approved a plan to install lights on a handful of athletic fields, but city leaders also acknowledged neighbor concerns about the project.

The plan is to eventually install new outdoor lighting at five fields around the city, with those lights phased in as the budget and construction timetables allow. Three of the fields could be illuminated as early as FY2023:

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

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), can’t be illuminated until 2024 and 2025 respectively. The aim of the lights is to extend the usable hours of some of the city’s more overcrowded fields.

The tone of the City Council meeting on Saturday was more cooperative than other debated city topics. While some civic discussions in Alexandria have been combative in the past, local resident organizations were quick to point out areas of agreement with local sports organizations and outline areas for compromise. The meeting featured a range of supporters of the lights and some nearby residents against the lights, but a sizable group of residents who supported the lights but had specific concerns about the lights exacerbating ongoing issues at the fields.

“Varsity Park members are not opposed to lights on the fields, including at Hammond Middle School,” said Bill Rossello, President of the Seminary Hill Association, “but we have significant concerns we feel have not been heard heretofore. All we’ve gotten back is indirectly communicated staff-splaining.”

Rossello said the Hammond field is frequently used by non-permitted adult groups throughout the year. Rossello echoed concerns shared from other neighbors who said their issues lie more in the handling of activities on the field than the lights themselves.

“In warm-weather months, these groups often use the field until dark,” Rossello said. “These groups are known to make a party out of a soccer match, consuming copious amounts of beer, playing music from very loud speakers, setting up food trucks at the site, and relieving themselves on resident properties across the street.”

Rossello said the Seminary Hill Association is asking for:

  • Use limited to permitted youth sports groups
  • If activity is not permitted, the lights are left off
  • Bathrooms installed on-site
  • Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities staff monitoring field use
  • Trash picked up early each day
  • Rental to adult groups prohibited

Ultimately, the City Council unanimously approved the lights, but several members of the Council said the discussion on Saturday was only the beginning of addressing issues related to use of the fields.

At a previous meeting, Planning Commissioners raised concerns that it can be difficult for someone facing an issue with one of the fields to get a clear answer on who to address those concerns to. One of the recurring items discussed was the need to have a phone number at each site so either local residents or those using the fields have a clear point of contact for issues related to field use.

“I appreciate these questions concerning management and monitoring of fields,” said Vice Mayor Amy Jackson. “As these issues arise what I want to get back to is… making sure the lights don’t continue to be on when they don’t need to be on.”

Jackson also said there have been games on lighted fields where the lights shut off and it wasn’t clear who to contact to get those turned back on.

However, I also want to bring up the flip side of the lights: sometimes those lights will go off in the middle of a game and I’ve been there when it happens,” Jackson said. “It’s disconcerting to players and parents, and there’s no one who can get ahold of anyone to turn on the lights. Again, that phone number comes in really handy. Broken hearts are left on the field if the lights are off and the game’s not over.”

Mayor Justin Wilson said discussion about field use will continue post-approval as the project is implemented.

“I appreciate everyone who added insights into this conversation,” Wilson said. “We’re working to address the concerns we heard and I think as we go forward we’ll work to address any concerns that arise.”

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