Lights at T.C. spark debate

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

A decades-old source of tension between officials and Seminary Hill residents over athletic facilities flared up Saturday when city council approved lighting for future tennis courts at T.C. Williams.

At a hearing that lasted more than two hours, neighbors of the high school decried the proposal, which calls for a set of six tennis courts complete with lights for night matches. Opponents argued it breaches a longstanding agreement with the community that bans any lighting on athletic fields at T.C.’s main campus.

“A deal is a deal,” said Nancy Jennings, president of the Seminary Hill Association. “Stop chasing after us and persecuting us.”

Seminary Hill residents said the plan would lead to light pollution in the neighborhood, which borders the King Street campus. And they took issue with statements from Mayor Bill Euille, who suggested that city council should re-examine the no-lights policy at T.C. in its entirety.

“This is long overdue by 40 years, since the high school was originally built,” Euille said. “Times change, technology changes and it’s not fair to penalize our students, athletes or the community for not having the opportunity for quality of life at athletic events during the day and also at night.”

James Gibson, chairman of the city youth sports advisory board, said having lights on tennis courts is in the best interest of the city.

“We’re getting bullied because of a small minority of folks controlling what we need to be successful in our sports,” Gibson said. “[We] cannot live under the pressure of what we were characterized … from 40 years ago.”

And Isabelle Harris, captain of the T.C. tennis team as well as senior class president, laid out some of the hardships that her squad faces without home courts.

“In all my years, I’ve never enjoyed a home match,” she said. “There are countless hours of class missed and studying time lost in what usually amounted to six hours of travel and match time for a home match.”

She added that if a match runs long, play must be postponed because of darkness and rescheduled for yet another long day.

But residents said they are not opposed to T.C. having tennis courts — they are just against the lights and the recent actions of city officials. Seminary Hill resident Carter Fleming said that the community was told last year that lights at the proposed courts were off the table, but then in June, they were added to the proposal.

“No one came back to us to say [lights were a part of the proposal],” Fleming said. “And the specific language wasn’t ready until November 22 in preparation for a presentation on December 3. To say we should be monitoring every single meeting is an unfair burden on citizens who were part of an agreement with you and the schools.”

Resident Frank Putzu pointed out that tennis boosters have said the only essential part of the project is the courts.

“The T.C. tennis team does not need the lights,” he said. “They have admitted multiple times that lights are a nice thing to have, but not a requirement.”

Several city councilors seemed mystified by the reaction to the proposal. City Councilor Tim Lovain noted that the tennis court lights would not be as high as lighting on the school’s parking garage, something that was not opposed.

“Anyone with a serious objection to lights at the tennis courts are going to need to address the lights on the parking garage,” he said. “And if those are acceptable, then why aren’t lights at the tennis courts?”

City Council Del Pepper also didn’t understand the commotion over the lights.

“If you don’t like it, just pull your drapes,” she said. “I know I don’t mind it at all.”

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