Our View: Outside the box thinking is needed to avoid a collision over T.C. lights

Our View: Outside the box thinking is needed to avoid a collision over T.C. lights

(Courtesy photo)

City officials appear to be on a collision course with residents of the Seminary Hill neighborhood next to T.C. Williams High School, with litigation a possible end result. The catalyst for this confrontation is a request for proposals put forth by the Alexandria City Public Schools that includes lights for Parker-Gray Stadium as part of an overall rebuild of the school’s football facility.

By means of some background, this is a conflict with a long history — 51 years to be exact. It began in 1965, when the city promised residents of Seminary Hill in writing that lights would never be installed on the T.C. Williams football field in exchange for residents dropping their opposition to the large school being built — in some cases literally — in their back yards.

This promise was reiterated, again in writing, prior to the rebuilt T.C. Williams opening its doors in September 2007. To neighbors and sympathizers throughout the city, the issue is cut and dried: a promise was made and repeated that there would be no lights, ever, at this site.

But, as with many things in life, it’s just not that simple.

More than 50 years after the original agreement, the fact is that Alexandria needs a football stadium with lights that can be used not only by the T.C. Williams football team but also by other school and city organizations.

In this space in June 2014, we advocated trying to find a compromise solution that could work for both sides. As part of a compromise, we proposed using technological advances in sound and lighting to minimize the neighborhood impact in addition to strict restrictions on the use of the lighted field, possibly to between six and 10 night events per year.

While such a compromise might still be workable, it also seems destined to leave everyone unhappy: six to 10 night events is not much of a return on the millions of dollars that will go into a total stadium rebuild. On the other hand, simply installing lights will seem like a betrayal to many Seminary Hill residents. What is more likely is a lighted stadium holding many more than 10 night events per year — and years of messy legal battles between residents and the city.

We wonder if perhaps there’s a better way.

Since the stadium needs a total rebuild anyway, why not pursue another site for the stadium that is not in the midst of a residential neighborhood? Perhaps somewhere along Eisenhower Avenue or in the Oakville Triangle would work. These areas are more industrial than residential, adjacent to major roads that could handle traffic from stadium events.

Yes, stepping back and looking at the issue from this perspective would take longer and cost more, since land would likely have to be purchased for the endeavor. But, given that the city was already looking to partner with private entities on the stadium project, why not simply broaden the search to include more partners? If a facility is built that would be a community-wide resource, funds might come from heretofore-unimagined sources.

And given that T.C. Williams and its Minnie Howard campus are bursting past capacity, might not the former football field on the T.C. Williams property be used to build needed classrooms?

One way or the other, T.C. Williams needs a lighted stadium in which to play night home football games. But from where we sit, making an effort to find a win-win solution is vastly better than continuing along an inevitable path toward conflict.