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.
Signs have popped up on Pickett Street, which is named for the general, calling for it to be renamed.
A history teacher at Francis C. Hammond Middle School posted images of the signs outside the school near the intersection of N. Pickett Street and Seminary Road.
Seen outside @FCHammond, signs from BH AS, and AS informing the community that Pickett was racist, and suggesting two possible better names, Heather Heyer and Humayun Khan. #changeracistnames @AlexandriaNow@justindotnet@SarahforALX@Alyia4ALX@j_chapman99@ShawnEyer pic.twitter.com/ymSB5Nc0iS
— Mr. L (@MrLHistoryClass) June 6, 2023
The calls for the street’s renaming come amid a broader review of Confederate-honoring streets around the city. Earlier this year, Alexandria’s City Council discussed plans to rename roughly three Confederate-horning street names each year.
Four Alexandria school zones have been selected for a pilot program to install speed cameras, according to a presentation prepared for a joint City Council and School Board meeting.
This is the first time Alexandria will use speed cameras, and the following locations were agreed upon by Alexandria City Public Schools, the police department and the Department of Transportation & Environmental Services:
- Francis Hammond Middle School (Seminary Road, between Kenmore Avenue and North Jordan Street)
- John Adams Elementary School and Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School (North Beauregard Street, between North Highview Lane and Reading Avenue)
- George Washington Middle School (Mount Vernon Avenue, between Braddock Road and Luray Avenue)
“The cameras are expected to be installed this spring, after which the program will undergo a testing period,” city staff said in a report. “The program is expected to be fully active for the 2023-24 school year. The City will advertise the camera locations to the public over the next several months in advance of the program going live.”
The areas are all within 15 mile-per-hour school zones.
Reviewing the proposed school zone speed cameras is on the agenda for a meeting of the City Council and School Board this afternoon (Monday) at 5 p.m. in City Hall (301 King Street).
Last year, City Council approved the $400,000 speed camera program, after a child was struck and seriously injured at an intersection just outside of Jefferson Houston Elementary School (200 block of North West Street). City Manager Jim Parajon then reduced speed limits in a number of residential, business and school zones from 25 miles per hour to 15 mph.
Updated at 5:55 p.m. The Alexandria School Board on Friday (October 20) received a recommendation to extend its agreement with the Alexandria Police Department to provide school resource officers at the city’s high school and middle schools until the end of the 2022-2023 school year.
The School Board will vote on the matter at its upcoming meeting on Thursday, November 10.
The memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the school system and police department was set to expire at the end of this month. By mid-December, the School Board will also receive interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt recommendations on the reimagined partnership. Those recommendations will have been guided by the School Law Enforcement Partnership (SLEP) Advisory Group.
“The SLEP advisory group may recommend changes to the MOU as part of their overall recommendations to the School Board in December 2022/January 2023,” Alicia Hart, the ACPS chief of facilities and operations, wrote in a memo to the School Board. “To this end, we are recommending extending the current MOU with APD through the end of June 2023. This extension will allow time to account for any potential recommendations that may come from the SLEP advisory group process as well as completion of the public comment process related to the review of the MOU.”
School safety has been a major focus within ACPS since full in-person schooling resumed at the beginning of the last school year.
ACPS began the 2021-2022 school year without school resource officers, after they were defunded by the City Council in last year’s budget. The first few months of the school year were punctuated by incidents with weapons in schools, prompting School Board Chair Meagan Alderton and then-Superintendent Gregory Hutchings to successfully plead to Council for SROs to return in October 2021.
Two months later, two SROs at Alexandria City High School’s King Street campus were put on administrative leave after being accused of having inappropriate sexual conversations with a former student. The school ended up not having SROs stationed at the King Street campus for the remainder of the school year.
There were 46 students arrested and 68 injured last school year, and 194 incidents that provoked a police response, according to an ACPS safety report.
Police Chief Don Hayes says that police are needed to contend with crews of violent kids within the school system, and Kay-Wyatt said that she will work collaboratively with the police to keep schools safe.
Eighteen Alexandria City Public School students were arrested in the first two quarters of this school year, in addition to 41 reported fights/assaults and 13 seized weapons. The weapons seized include a gun, five knives, a stun gun, two fake weapons, and pepper spray.
That’s according to a School Safety Data report to be presented to the School Board on Thursday. The report reveals 18 arrests within ACPS between August and December, 34 injuries, and also a sexual assault allegation at the Alexandria City High School-Minnie Howard campus in October.
“Upon notification of the allegation, the alleged aggressor was removed from campus,” ACPS said in the report. “This student was placed into virtual learning as APD investigated the allegation. This student was officially charged with an offense related to this allegation on January 13, 2022.”
The report sheds light on a period that led School Board Chair Meagan Alderton and Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. to plead with City Council to reverse course on its decision to defund the school resource officer program. The SROs — police officers stationed at Alexandria City High School and the city’s two middle schools — were briefly defunded last year when Council redirected $800,000 from the program toward mental health resources for students.
There were 71 incidents at Francis C. Hammond Middle School and George Washington Middle School during the reporting period, 59 incidents at ACHS, 49 incidents in elementary schools, and 12 incidents in K-8 schools. Some fights at ACHS and George Washington Middle School were even recorded by students and posted on Instagram.
“Fighting is really not the reason why we need school resource officers in our school buildings,” Hutchings told Council in October. “We are not trained to deal with guns or violence or gang initiation, or things of that nature in our school buildings.”
SROs were brought back in October, but two months later the two officers at Alexandria City High School were placed on leave after a former student alleged having “sexually inappropriate conversations” with them while attending ACHS, according to the Washington Post. The allegations are still under investigation. While there are no SROs at ACHS, police rotate in and out of the school throughout the day.
Incidents also include two robberies, three drug offenses, a bomb threat and 13 pulled fire alarms.
The report will follow a staff presentation on the formation of the School Law Enforcement Advisory Group, a 12-person body that will act as a liaison between the Board and police on the SRO and public safety issues.
Safety data the last two quarters of the year won’t be available until another report is released this summer.
Not included in the report is an allegation that a Francis C. Hammond Middle School student was caught selling marijuana joints to classmates last month. The middle schooler was searched and found to be in possession of 10 joints containing marijuana, and told police that she was supplied by an Alexandria City High School student, according to a search warrant.
After missing quarterly reporting deadlines on school safety, Alexandria City Public Schools says it will deliver a report this week.
In a joint City Council/School Board work session on Wednesday night, some Council members were not pleased that ACPS has not delivered quarterly performance reviews on the school resource officer program. At the meeting, ACPS staff announced that the Board will soon receive a report on school safety data and the proposed school law enforcement partnership (SLEP) advisory group. The report has not yet been made public, and should be posted today (March 3) or tomorrow as an agenda item for the upcoming meeting.
The SROs — police officers stationed at Alexandria City High School and the city’s two middle schools — were briefly defunded last year after a disjointed process that saw Council go against the wishes of the Board and redirect $800,000 from the program toward mental health resources for students. The vote created a rift between City Council and the School Board, but after numerous violent incidents with weapons in schools, School Board Chair Meagan Alderton and Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. pleaded for their return.
“I think that we still have a long ways to go to make sure that we are getting this reporting done properly,” City Councilman Canek Aguirre said at the meeting. “I think what everybody agreed on last year is that the process sucked and there was almost little-to-no process.”
The memorandum of understanding between ACPS and the police stipulates a requirement that the City receive the reports, and that there should be meetings in August, November, February, and May of each school year for staff to “review performance and discuss reporting data.”
SROs were brought back in October, but two months later the two officers at Alexandria City High School were placed on leave after a “serious complaint” from a former student alleging “sexually inappropriate conversations” while she attended ACHS, according to the Washington Post.
There are no SROs at ACHS, which has more than 4,000 students and is the largest high school in Virginia. Still, APD officers are present at the high school, with officers rotating inside and outside of the school throughout the day, according to John Contreras, ACPS director of safety and security services.
Alicia Hart, ACPS executive director of facilities and operations, said that the lack of reporting is due to the program getting shut down last year. She said quarterly meetings between ACPS and APD are still being held.
“I absolutely agree there is an opportunity for us to make sure that we are caught up for the next go around,” Hart told Council.
Alderton said she previewed the report, and that it has some surprises.
“I had a chance to preview it, and I have to say, I think people are gonna find it very interesting,” Alderton said. “We’re not just looking at numbers, we’re looking at impact and who the impact is on. We’ll see some interesting information about disproportionality that may have some surprises.”
Councilman Kirk McPike said that the SRO program is city funded, and that there should be transparent discussions around school safety.
“This is a program that exists within the schools but it is funded in a part of the city budget,” McPike said. “We all saw last year what happens when the Council and the School Board roll in opposite directions on this issue, and it’s incredibly important that we find ways not to do that because we’re talking about safety in our schools, which is a paramount concern, not just for people on both our bodies but the entire city.”
The school year has been marked by violent incidents, including the shooting of a student at the McDonald’s at the Bradlee Shopping Center, a student being arrested with a gun on ACHS grounds, a student being arrested with a knife at ACHS, a firecracker incident that led to the evacuation of a football game, brawls inside ACHS and George Washington Middle School and more.
A student was suspended last month at Francis C. Hammond Middle School for allegedly writing about ‘shooting up the school’ on Discord with another student.
On October 26, the school resource officer at Francis C. Hammond Middle School was alerted by school staff that the student was interviewed and suspended.
The incident occurred on October 26, according to a police search warrant affidavit.
In an anagram, the student first wrote, “nodt moce ot shcloo no wendsydya,” which, when rearranged, reads, “Don’t come to school on Wednesday.”
A classmate responded by writing: “bruh don’t be shooting da school dafuq.”
The student responded by writing, “I’m not [name] told me not to. But imma give it 2 weeks at the most.”
When asked to clarify what he was deciding, the student then stated “shooting up the school.”
The student, when interviewed at his home, admitted to police that he sent the messages and that he deleted them on his phone, according to the affidavit.
The story of Hybla Valley’s lost airport — “Every American with their own plane? Strangely enough, this was a widespread belief during most of the 1920s and ’30s — a motive which, at the time, led to the creation of Alexandria’s prestigious and unique Hybla Valley Airport.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]
New sports field opens at Francis C. Hammond Middle School — “The new multipurpose futsal court at Francis C. Hammond Middle School was finally unveiled on Monday, Nov. 8.” [Zebra]
Alexandria warehouse sold for $9 million — “Washington, D.C.-based Lee & Associates has brokered the $9 million sale of a 28,000-square-foot warehouse at 619 S. Pickett St. in Alexandria to Terreno Realty Corp.” [Virginia Business]
City tree lighting scheduled — “The City invites the community to join Mayor Justin Wilson and a host of friends to welcome back the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony on Saturday, November 20, at 6 p.m. in Market Square (301 King St.).” [Alexandria Living Magazine]
After recent infrastructure work, Alexandria City Public Schools confirmed that it’s satisfied with the conditions at Alexandria’s middle schools — for the time being.
In what one school official described as a pleasantly “boring” meeting between the City Council and School Board after recent City Council-School Board turmoil, school staff said some recently completed work at George Washington Middle School and Francis C. Hammond Middle School should be the last big investments in those schools for the foreseeable future.
Mayor Justin Wilson confirmed at the meeting with school staff that the near-term plans for both middle schools are system replacements to keep the building in a state of good repair, but no widespread expensive infrastructure projects are currently planned for either school.
“We’re not staring down a $30-40 million investment in these buildings in the near term?” Wilson asked, which ACPS confirmed.
John Finnigan, director of educational facilities, said that ACPS recently replaced the roofs and have been working on water intrusion issues at both schools.
“We’ll see what [the assessments] show, but we’re not looking at huge investments,” Finnigan said, “especially on the two schools you mentioned.”
At GW Middle School, Finnigan said the roof replacement started in 2016 and ran for two-and-a-half years. ACPS also completed work on the building exterior, along with additional caulking and masonry. At Hammond, infrastructure work was completed last year and included lighting upgrades for the school.
Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., cautioned that the schools will still need to review the impending division-wide facility assessments, but that currently there are no plans for more multi-million dollar projects at either school.
(Updated 11:30 a.m.) Francis C. Hammond Middle School was locked down this morning after a call about a shooting at the school, but the Alexandria Police Department said the call was unfounded.
According to the Alexandria Police Department:
UPDATE: APD received a call around 9:30am about a shooting at Francis C. Hammond MS on Seminary Road. Officers searched the school and determined the call was unfounded. A student was taken to the hospital after suffering a medical event while officers were searching the school.
Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) said that Hammond Middle School has since resumed normal operations.
“In the event that your student is feeling anxious about school, please remind them that the school counselors, psychologists and social workers are present to support them in any way that they need support,” ACPS said in a Facebook post.
10/14/2021 10:45 AM: Francis C. Hammond MS status has changed to normal operations. APD has completed threat assessment of anonymous threat & concluded that threat was not credible. Thank you to our staff, students & APD. We will share more information as it becomes available.
— Alexandria City Public Schools (@ACPSk12) October 14, 2021
UPDATE: APD received a call around 9:30am about a shooting at Francis C. Hammond MS on Seminary Road. Officers searched the school and determined the call was unfounded. A student was taken to the hospital after suffering a medical event while officers were searching the school. https://t.co/q9YrBdiCQ2
— Alexandria Police (@AlexandriaVAPD) October 14, 2021
The school, like Alexandria City High School, was on lockdown this morning after the anonymous threat. Alexandria City Public Schools and the Alexandria Police Department could not be reached to confirm that the lockdowns were related.