ACPS defers decision on athletic lights at T.C. Williams

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

The Alexandria School Board pushed off a proposal to light up T.C. Williams’ football stadium last week.

With a feasibility study on the project not yet complete — it was expected to be ready for the board’s June 19 meeting — members opted for the delay. But that didn’t stop the high school’s neighbors from airing their grievances with the controversial proposal at the meeting.

The prospect of lights at the football stadium has been a contentious subject since the high school’s founding more than 40 years ago. A key provision of the compromise allowing for the construction of the school nixed athletic lights. That agreement was renewed when T.C. was rebuilt in the early 2000s.

Seminary Hill residents accused officials of reneging on the agreement and said lights at the football stadium would cause headaches in the form of light pollution, noise and increased traffic stemming from a cavalcade of evening events at the high school.

At times, the discussion grew heated. Resident Jack Sullivan’s testimony centered on the school district’s repeated agreements not to build lights. He continued after his microphone was cut off — Sullivan had exceeded the three-minute limit on public testimony — yelling that the matter would lead to litigation.

“[City] council finalized that action with a promise to neighbors, a commitment, a pact,” he said. “This would trash that agreement. How has the factual situation changed in the last six months?”

Bill Goff also spoke out against the proposal, but said it wasn’t the prospect of five home football games at night that alarmed him. It is the constant use of the field by outside groups that is worrying, he said.

“To play at T.C., you need a permit and you need to be supervised [by a parks department employee],” Goff said. “I’ve seen teams from Maryland practice on the field without permits, and teams with permits play without supervisors. … If lights are installed, can we trust the city to do the right thing? We cannot.”

Stadium lights were not without their supporters. James Gibson, the city’s youth football league commissioner and chair of the youth sports advisory board, said the lack of lights there is a burden not only for other schools, who must schedule unusual Saturday afternoon football games, but local students.

“It puts a hamper on our student-athletes,” Gibson said. “They aren’t able to make college visits, which are usually on Saturdays, so they have fewer opportunities [than athletes at other high schools].”

And Craig Schiele, president of the T.C. Williams Band Boosters, said lights aren’t just about athletics.

“For the T.C. marching band, the home field is their classroom, but because the demand is so high, it is not available many times when it is needed,” Schiele said. “Families have to choose between participation in band and participation in other activities.”

School board chairwoman Karen Graf said the feasibility study is merely the first step in the renewed discussion of the lights proposal. She said she didn’t have a timeline about when the feasibility study would come out.

“All of this is very premature in our process,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do, but we need the feasibility study to begin to do that work.”

The school board has one more meeting on July 3 before its summer recess.

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