It may seem like a relatively minor issue, but the dire state of the press box at T.C. Williams’ Parker-Gray Stadium is a symbolic and logistical nightmare for the school’s rebuilding football program.
For the second year in a row, Alexandria City Public Schools has deemed the shambolic structure atop the stadium’s home bleachers unsafe and unfit for use. Although it is not officially condemned, the door is locked shut and nobody is allowed inside.
Let’s get the obvious complaints out of the way: the press box makes Alexandria’s only public high school look bad, and it makes it harder for reporters, coaches and other game officials to do their jobs. From the vantage point of the school’s temporary press box behind the end zone, it is harder for coaches to read and adapt to defenses. And it’s harder for the game’s timekeeper to see when referees call for clock stoppages.
But the current situation at Parker-Gray Stadium highlights other issues. For one, delays to replacing the press box are costing the school system money. According to budget documents, the cost of a temporary press box so far is around $35,000 — more than a third of the projected $100,000 cost of a new permanent structure. Put bluntly, that’s a waste of money.
The Alexandria City School Board has included money in its 10-year capital budget to replace the press box, as well as upgrade the bleachers upon which it stands. But we fear the manner of its inclusion will lead only to more delays, if not outright suspension of the project.
Upgrades to the press box and the bleachers are under a catchall proposal for stadium improvements, one that includes adding floodlights to Parker-Gray Stadium. While this might make sense in an effort to consolidate related line items in the budget, this decision actually could have the opposite of a streamlining effect.
The idea of putting lights on T.C. Williams’ athletic field — and by extension, hosting sporting events at night — has been controversial since the school first opened in the 1960s. And a renewed and impassioned debate on the issue has been brewing since city and schools officials floated the idea of revisiting lighting Parker-Gray Stadium in 2013.
Including needed repairs, upgrades and the press box replacement with a contentious proposal that many would argue is optional only will hurt the prospect of these upgrades coming to fruition.
The Parker-Gray Stadium press box is far from the most important item in ACPS’ capital budget. School board members need to juggle it with far more expensive needs, like school construction, renovations and the like.
But a discussion on the project shouldn’t be overcomplicated by a proposal that is sure to pit neighbors against parents, alumni and boosters. Separate the necessary upgrades from the lights proposal, and let them stand on their own merits.