OUR VIEW | Lights, Turf, Action!

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In this space last week we advocated utilizing temporary lights at T.C. Williams High School to give Friday night football another chance in Alexandria. But football is not the only sport in Alexandria that would benefit from improved field conditions for additional night games. The city could greatly expand its soccer and lacrosse offerings by adding lights and synthetic turf to the existing soccer field at Ben Brenman Park, which its in the midst of attempting.

The move, currently being considered by the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, makes sense for a number of reasons. In a city Alexandrias size, the number and quality of recreational playing fields is constantly changing. Some fields are lost or reduced in size due to construction, such as fields at Jones Point and Chinquapin. Others simply deteriorate over time to the point of being unplayable (as anyone who has ventured in recent years into Death Valley at Francis C. Hammond Middle School would attest.) To counter these losses, it is vital that the city remain proactive in attempting to secure additional recreation space when possible and to look for ways to enhance existing facilities when feasible.

Brenman Park, one of the citys nicest open spaces, is underutilized in its current configuration. Its focal point is a scenic, small lake with a path around it that gets heavy use by walkers, joggers and bicyclists. It has one of the citys best maintained (though unlit) baseball diamonds, and another large field area that is broken up into a large soccer field, a space that serves as both a baseball diamond and soccer field and considerable undeveloped open space. These fields are often unplayable after moderate rainfall.

The proposal on the table would cause Brenmans large field to be covered with synthetic turf and lighted for year-round and evening use. The city estimates that the combination of turf and lights would more than double the usage of this field from an average of 44 hours a week to 98 hours weekly. In addition, the overall potential of Brenman Park as host to significant tournaments is greater than the similarly refurbished fields at Fort Ward Park and the T.C. Williams Minnie Howard campus.

This project would cost money, of course, and in a tight budgetary environment each spending decision involves real tradeoffs. The tradeoffs are both between playing fields and other city services as well as between competing recreational options. City officials have actually been planning toward this change for several years. In two different Parks and Recreation studies, the re-turfing and lighting of Brenman park was seen as the most beneficial change the city could make to greater utilize its facilities. (Similar improvements were recommended for Francis C. Hammond Middle School.) In addition, the City Council already provided funding for the estimated $1.5 million project in its 2010 budget when it added a one cent real estate tax to fund capital improvement projects.

Some Alexandrians will make very valid arguments against this expenditure for Brenman Park. It can certainly be argued that this was not the year to raise taxes for capital improvements, especially with so much federal stimulus money coming the citys way. It can also be argued that the Hammond field should have had top priority, or that the baseball field at Brenman should get lights before the soccer field receives improvements. Some nearby residents have also voiced concerns about the added traffic and current lack of adequate parking at Brenman Park.

While all of these perspectives have validity, its also true that a city must invest in its infrastructure and in the intangible element known as quality of life. In this era of obesity and sedentary lifestyles, it is imperative that recreational activities be available to as many of our residents as possible. There are few places Alexandria officials could spend $1.5 million dollars that would generate a greater enhancement to our citys quality of life than this proposed project. Simply put, Brenman Park needs these improvements, along with more parking spaces, to become Alexandrias recreational focal point. Its time to roll out the turf, set up the lights and play more soccer (and lacrosse).

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