ACPS: total cost of T.C. lights could reach $3.5 million

ACPS: total cost of T.C. lights could reach $3.5 million

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

Officials with Alexandria City Public Schools sought last week to reassure residents that lights at T.C. Williams’ football stadium would not cause year-round nighttime use of the field.

But Seminary Hill residents continued to question the validity of the district’s report on the controversial proposal at the school board’s September 18 meeting, particularly when it came to light pollution. Bill Goff said the recently unveiled feasibility study relies on data that is 21 years old, and accused district staff of digging for numbers that supported the proposal.

Many neighbors have opposed adding lights, which would let the school host Friday night football games, for decades. Officials pledged to eschew athletic lighting at the high school altogether when it was built in the 1960s. They reaffirmed the agreement with neighbors when the school was rebuilt in the 2000s.

Recent attempts to drum up support for lights have met staunch opposition from the surrounding neighborhood. Though ultimately successful, a proposal to build lighted tennis courts earlier this year quickly became bogged down in a bitter debate.

Following that contentious discussion, members of the city’s school board indicated they planned to study the practicality of erecting lights at the football stadium. A feasibility study, unveiled earlier this month, is the first step in that process.

The entire project, which includes replacing the athletic field and other upgrades to the stadium, could cost upwards of $3.5 million, warned William Holley, director of the district’s educational facilities, at last week’s meeting. Earlier this month, officials said the cost of just installing field lights would run between $684,000 and $774,000.

Holley also tried to allay concerns that a lighted Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium represents an opportunity for the city to make money by renting out the field. Many neighbors worry about noise — think of whistles and cheering fans — as well as light pollution.

“[There would be] 40 nights total for the school, with up to 12 additional nights if teams make it to the playoffs,” Holley said. “[The department of] parks and recreation said they anticipate no additional usage of the track … and no third-party nighttime usage is anticipated.”

Resident Gary Carver, who supports lighting the football field, said neighbors’ intransigence has made the proposal, which he described as focused on minimizing light reflection at the expense of other priorities, untenable. It goes too far in trying to mollify opponents, he argued, and binds officials’ hands in the future.

“[I] cannot support the [potential] compromise made with adjoining property owners over every little detail, that might some day have to be altered out of necessity, and then followed by outcry again and the potential for legal action would be present,” Carver said.

School officials indicated they would discuss the feasibility report again at their October 2 meeting.