Despite an earlier error that saw a hole dug into a lane of the track, the city says a light pole at the Hammond Middle School field is exactly where it’s supposed to be.
Last week, Alexandria Living Magazine broke a story that new poles were blocking track lanes at Hammond Middle School. Jack Browand, division chief of Parks and Cultural Activities, said a mistake caused a hole to be dug onto the tracks, but said that damage has since been repaired and the current light pole is where it’s located in the approved plans.
“The lights are exactly where they were approved to be,” Browand said. “There’s been no deception, no rogue staff decisions: the approved documents per the [special use permit] are 100% where the light poles are.”
Earlier documents showed the light pole located outside of the track, but Browand said the version ultimately approved by the City Council had the light pole installed inside the track.
Seminary Hill Association President Bill Rossello said some of the community frustrations come from a feeling that those changes were not clearly communicated.
“If you go to page 179 of the City Council staff report on Nov. 12 you will see the pole location is exactly where the poles are now,” Rossello said. “In eight public meetings, the poles were presented as being outside of the track. No one at the city ever verbalized [that change] to City Council. They did not verbalize that to the community and the ACPS resolution endorsing the project was based on the original location on the original [Special Use Permit].”
While there’s been some discussion of the current pole being located in the middle of a lane, the city said the area where the pole is located is not part of the track.
There's a commentary on government to be made out of an Alexandria, VA middle school installing new lights for its athletic field and track… right in the middle of the track, in running lanes 2 and 3.
— Jared Walczak (@JaredWalczak) August 17, 2023
“It’s absurd on its face,” Rossello said. “Who would put poles on a track?”
Browand said the area where the light pole is located is not a marked lane and the lines on the track note that the area outside of the pole is considered lane one. The fence around the field also bumps out into the track.
“Plans for the Hammond expansion do not demark that area as a lane, which is where the fence post is currently today,” Browand said. “The fence post, where the lights are now, were never labeled as a lane… The first full lane is the first unobstructed lane existing there. People presumed that the area against the fence was a lane but it’s not a lane.”
The issue has also divided city leaders. Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said the position of the pole was vague in the report:
It’s unfortunate that the city has put our youth and community in this position when it comes to the installation of the new field lights at Hammond Middle School recently. I walked the track with community members last week who were frustrated with the city’s inability to install these lights in a way that did not detract from the safety and usability of the track and, honestly, the field.
The contractors the city hired to install the lights made several adjustments and corrections while trying to follow the city’s approved guidelines, so that the angle of the lights were specific to night field use and not bother neighbors, but in the midst of these adjustments, the poles needed to be installed on the inside track lane on one side. I want to make clear that the contractors are not to blame for this. I spoke with our city staff and the contractor’s foreman at length. It’s challenging with little clarity in the SUP regarding the placement of the poles on the track. Honestly, the SUP does not clarify in writing that the installation is taking away a track lane and the discussion did not highlight this element of the installation when it came before Council.
If you scrutinize the drawings depicted in the SUP, the drawings are also not detailed to the point of the location of the set back of where the poles are supposed to be, whether inside the field fenced area or outside, and questions if the distance met all requirements. Since the corrections it may [be fixed], but it has destroyed one if not two middle school track lanes that tax payers subsidized over 10 years ago because we needed a nice West End track… It would help minimize confusion, frustration, and incongruities in the future for our city’s staff to be more specific in their written explanations of what exactly the plan is for field lights installation that may affect track usage for our youth and the community.
Jackson said she hopes to see thick padding added to the poles for safety, similar to padding added to goalposts.
Mayor Justin Wilson said the location of the pole is a reasonable, if imperfect, solution:
Both my kids run track, and my son is now running in college, so I’m sensitive to the issue.
I went out there on Saturday with my daughter to inspect. The fence already obscructs the lane. It’s ‘Lane Zero’ as my daughter called it. It’s not a usable lane.
It was a reasonable, albeit not perfect, accomodation to reduce the light spillover for the neighbors on that side.
It’s a day of happiness in Alexandria, as more than 900 Alexandria City High School seniors graduated this morning at George Mason University’s EagleBank Arena.
Perhaps student speaker Lenhle Vilakati put it best when she said: “Today we finally break apart and become our own people. Today we finally have to go off into bigger things and be amazing.”
Alexandria City High School is the largest public high school in Virginia.
Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt praised the 905 graduates, and said they are ready to take their next steps.
“This class of Titans is more than ready to do great things to the next chapter of their lives,” Kay-Wyatt said.
Outgoing Principal Peter Balas received a standing ovation, and tearfully thanked the audience of students, families, ACPS staff and city leaders.
“This is the most meaningful part of being a principal and your class will be one that I will always remember and hold close to my heart,” Balas said. “Today, you’re all experiencing a major life-changing event. Graduation brings to an end the last 13 years of schooling as you know it, that has been structured and supported by so many loved ones who helped you be successful. A change like this can be scary, but it is often through change that you become the best version of yourself.”
Old Town was packed on Saturday morning for Alexandria’s 40th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Thousands of visitors lined King Street to watch a procession of more than 2,000 participants, including Irish dancers, historic reenactors and the City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums. The festivities also included a car show and a dog show at Market Square outside City Hall.
This year’s Grand Marshal was Charlotte Hall, managing director of Old Town Business. The parade was sponsored by the Ballyshaners, a nonprofit dedicated to Irish heritage. Ballyshaners is Gaelic for “Old Towners.”
Enjoy the photos!
— Dick Uliano (@DickUliano) March 4, 2023
Get out of the way!!
Today, the Woodridge Showtime Marching Eagles Performed at the 2023 Ballyshaners St. Patrick's Day Parade held in Old Town Alexandria Virginia. #woodridgeeaglessoar💙💛💙🦅 #FriendshipProud #fpcswoodridge #dccharterproud #marchingband pic.twitter.com/0jpJoQ4U4F
— Friendship PCS (@FriendshipPCS) March 4, 2023
— Old Town Dog Walks (@Oldtowndogwalks) March 4, 2023
Old Town was packed on Monday, as thousands of revelers and marchers celebrated the George Washington Birthday Parade.
More than 2,000 freemasons from all over the country marched in the 100th annual parade, which is the largest annual celebration of Washington in the world.
This year’s event saw a rare route change for the parade, which is traditionally held east of Washington Street near City Hall in the Old Town Historic District. This year, the parade made its way from Old Town North to King Street and near the George Washington Masonic National Memorial at King Street and Commonwealth Avenue.
This event commemorated the construction of the Memorial in 1923, which saw then-President Calvin Coolidge, Chief Justice William Howard Taft and Virginia Governor E. L.Trinkle lay the cornerstone.
Alexandria’s next parade is the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Old Town on Saturday, March 4.
It was an unseasonably warm 60 degrees on Saturday afternoon (Dec. 3) in Old Town for the Campagna Center’s 51st Scottish Christmas Walk Parade.
The parade is one of the most popular events in the city, bringing thousands of participants, including Irish dancers, historic reenactors and the City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums. It is considered the highlight of a weekend full of events.
This year’s grand marshal was former City Council Member Del Pepper.
— Visit Alexandria VA (@AlexandriaVA) December 3, 2022
It’s the most wonderful day of the year! The Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk Parade! ❤️ pic.twitter.com/G9uT8chYPo
— Alyia Gaskins (@Alyia4ALX) December 4, 2022
The rain stopped JUST in time and we had an amazing parade! pic.twitter.com/FTbJOFebh0
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) December 3, 2022
The 51st Annual Scottish Christmas Walk Parade is on the move! pic.twitter.com/0YUiqzP3NE
— Visit Alexandria VA (@AlexandriaVA) December 3, 2022
Old Town just got a little brighter.
On Saturday (Nov. 19), Santa Claus made his way to City Hall on the King Street Trolley to help members of City Council light the holiday tree at Market Square in front of City Hall.
Town Crier Ben Fiore-Walker started things off with a proclamation, followed by speeches by Santa and Mayor Justin Wilson.
There are 40,000 lights on the 40-foot-tall tree at Market Square.
Coming up, the Del Ray holiday tree and Menorah lighting is on Sunday, December 4. Santa is also expected to make an appearance at the annual event.
Photos via Elijah Walter Griffin, Sr./Griffin Vision
Alexandria Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said the impact of pop star Lorde’s decision to take a plunge into the Potomac River is still rippling out across local environmental agencies.
In August, the New Zealand musician told a stunned D.C. crowd at The Anthem that she’d gone for a swim in the Potomac River. In years past, the river has had a reputation for being notoriously polluted, though the water quality has been gradually improving in recent years.
Jackson, reporting on activity from the Chesapeake Bay Policy and Resources Committee, said Lorde was still the talk of the town at the recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conference.
“We had our 11th annual EPA forum,” Jackson said. “We had a wonderful panel come and discuss [pollutants] and a lot of how groundwater [and] stormwater affects our city and our region, and what we can do to keep our water clean. Of course, this coincides with the Clean Water Act, and of course that all started with Lorde coming and swimming in the Potomac.”
“No one would probably do that a few years ago, and she’s still well,” Jackson said. “We’ve not heard that she’s come down with anything. We don’t say ‘go swim in the Potomac’ but it was definitely a great marketing tool for Lorde to do that for us.”
At a recent concert in Maryland, Lorde said she feels like a “radioactive creature” after swimming in the river.
It moves at a snail’s pace, but Alexandria’s tunnel boring machine is ready to drill through 100-foot-deep soil to prevent millions of gallons of combined sewage from flowing into the Potomac River, Hooffs Run, and Hunting Creek.
On Thursday, Alexandria’s leaders were on-hand for the unveiling and dedication of AlexRenew’s RiverRenew Tunnel Project. The $454.4 million project is the largest infrastructure project in the city’s history, and will result in a 12-foot-wide, two-mile-long waterfront tunnel, which will divert approximately 120 million gallons of sewage every year.
At the dedication, Mayor Justin Wilson lamented the loss of former Mayor Kerry Donley, an AlexRenew Board Member, who died on Wednesday.
“Our hearts are certainly heavy this morning as we gather without Kerry,” Wilson said. “I think if there was ever a more fitting, audacious undertaking as a tribute to Kerry, it’s what we’re doing right here. Kerry always believed that this was a city that could do big things that were audacious, and their impact in their planning and scale. And this certainly is a mind-blowing exercise for this community.”
The tunnel boring machine was built in Schwanau, Germany, and was given the name Hazel, after environmental activist Hazel Johnson.
“Today we honor Hazel Johnson’s dedication to a cleaner, safer environment for future generations through the dedication of this tunnel boring machine, which will build a brighter future for all Alexandria,” said Karen Pallansch, CEO of AlexRenew Enterprises. “This 380-ton custom-built tunnel boring machine will soon begin to dig. How fast does she move? She moves about as fast as a snail creeping along a stick by Hunting Creek, and yet, and yet she’s gonna leave behind a lasting legacy.”
The Virginia General Assembly mandated in 2017 that the project be completed by July 1, 2025. The groundbreaking for the project was held last fall.
“It’s a good day for all of us,” said Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-45). “We were able to get $40 million additional dollars in this year’s state budget for this project, which will help us see it to completion.”
The tunnel project is partially funded through a $321 million loan from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act and $50 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.
With fireworks, cupcakes and music, Alexandria celebrated its 273rd birthday on Sunday, July 10.
Thousands were in attendance for the free party, which also celebrates America’s birthday and was supposed to be held on Saturday (July 9), but was held off due to rain. What resulted was a less crowded event than years past — with performances by Town Crier Ben Fiore-Walker, Poet Laureate Zeina Azzam, and the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra (ASO).
During the fireworks show over the Potomac River, the symphony played the “Superman theme” by John Williams instead of the traditional “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky. ASO Conductor Jim Ross said that it would not be fitting to play music by a Russian composer commemorating Alexandria’s and the country’s birthdays.
Happy Birthday Alexandria! pic.twitter.com/vbxiM9JJaz
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) July 11, 2022
— Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail (@MtVernonFriends) July 11, 2022
Thousands gathered in Alexandria Sunday night to watch fireworks, listen to a concert, and celebrate the birthday of both the city (273rd) and the country (246th).https://t.co/hu0iXav6zu pic.twitter.com/XjXQQ3YEd1
— 7News DC (@7NewsDC) July 11, 2022
— Tom Roussey (@tomroussey7news) July 11, 2022
Fantastic fireworks show tonight in Alexandria! pic.twitter.com/xVRUgQzU2g
— Aatman A. Vakil (@AatmanVakil) July 11, 2022
More than a dozen anti-abortion activists were individually led out of Alexandria’s City Council Chambers on Tuesday night (June 28), as Council unanimously approved a resolution to protect access to abortions in the city.
Members of the California-based group Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust sat in Council Chambers holding signs depicting graphic photos and drawings of aborted fetuses. The group spent the last several days demonstrating outside the U.S. Supreme Court leading up to last week’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, banning abortion in more than a dozen states.
Mayor Justin Wilson told the audience repeatedly to quiet down or he’d clear the chamber, and asked police to remove more than a dozen protestors, including A.J. Hurley, national director of the group.
“Bodily autonomy is a basic human right,” Wilson said. “I’m not really fond of resolutions that, you know, take stands on issues that we don’t have a lot of impact on, and this is not one of those. I think the reason this resolution is before us is because it has specific actions that are very much in our purview.”
Hurley is from Los Angeles, California. He said that the mission of the organization is to seek a federal ban on abortion, and doesn’t believe he will see that happen in his lifetime. Hurley was eventually escorted from Council Chambers by police after an outburst. Members of the group also shouted on megaphones and banged on plastic buckets outside City Hall.
“If this city council is going to produce edicts and statements and resolutions moving towards ordinances, they should know the faces of the children that they affect,” Hurley said.
The resolution states that “it is not possible to ban abortion, but only to ban safe and legal abortions,” and asks that the City Manager consider budgetary proposals for the FY 2024 budget to “ensure accessibility of reproductive health services, safe abortion services, accessible maternal and child health services for low-income Alexandria residents.”
The resolution also calls on the City Attorney to join ongoing or future lawsuits “to protect the availability of abortion services in Alexandria,” as well as land use protections for providers.
When told by a protestor that she doesn’t understand the issue because she hasn’t had an abortion, Vice Mayor Amy Jackson asked, “How do you know I haven’t?”
“When we’re talking about personal freedom and women’s health care, it should be the women’s choice, not men,” Jackson said.
“Fortunately right now we are in Virginia, and in Virginia abortion remains legal,” McPike said. “There’s nothing we can do from this dais or as City Council to override state law. If that changes, we will not be able to limit that. What we can do is work within the powers that we have as a city body, to ask our city manager in our city attorney to take on active roles in helping us protect this right to reproductive choice here in our city, whether that’s through revising our planning and zoning rules, whether that’s by joining lawsuits, whether that’s by putting language in our legislative packets. “
Council Member Alyia Gaskins, who noted in the meeting that she is pregnant, said that the Supreme Court ruling is an attack on the rights of women and families.
“We must be relentless in protecting the health and wellbeing of our people and the citizens we serve,” Gaskins said.
Council Member Sarah Bagley directly addressed the anti-abortion activists holding signs.
“I look at these photos, I see you pointing at them,” Bagley said. “What I don’t see is the woman whose life was saved because the ectopic pregnancy would have killed her. What I don’t see with these photos is a woman who desperately wanted a child but was told that (with) these fetal abnormalities would never have survived.”
Many residents also sat in Council Chambers holding signs thanking Alexandria for its pro-abortion efforts, including Sandy Marks, chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee.
“Our council is entirely unshaken,” Marks said. “There have been a few interruptions, business is moving smoothly. They’re attempting to make noise outside, but our good governance is not going to be disrupted by a small number of out of town visitors that are here to try to obstruct a meeting that is going very smoothly.”
Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-45) also sat in the audience.
“I’m here because I believe everyone should be able to access safe abortions,” Bennett-Parker said. “I’m here today to support City Council and this resolution to protect abortion access in Alexandria and Virginia. I’m here because people should be able to make decisions about their own body, their own future and their own lives.”