By Chris Teale (File photo)
Since it opened in 1965, T.C. Williams High School’s Parker-Gray Stadium has played host to state championship-winning teams in football, soccer and other sports, while also serving as a training ground for the school’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program and a place for the marching band to practice and perform, among other uses.
But certain aspects of the stadium appear to be showing their age. There is no running water or restrooms. The bleachers are in need of reinforcement and upgrades to ensure they comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Also, both the turf field and running track require replacement, with the turf set to be replaced in 2018. Meanwhile, the concessions stand, in a building converted from a lawnmower storage unit, is in need of a facelift.
With that in mind, Alexandria City Public Schools issued a request for proposals to select architectural and engineering firms to provide design services for the renovated stadium. Included in the RFP is a request to see lighting, not only for security purposes nearby but also for the field itself.
Firms are asked to design “a system with minimal impact on the private properties surrounding the stadium, including any mitigation elements required,” with the lighting aspect described as one of the major upgrades required.
Having been considered over several years and with $320,000 allocated in the most recent 10-year capital budget to allow for the study of stadium improvements, officials are excited to see the process gather momentum.
“It’s really not just about the students at T.C. Williams, it’s about the community,” said T.C. principal Jesse Dingle. “T.C. Williams is such a huge part of our community, and to be able to bring those future Titans into our stadium so they can see those role models who are out there on the field, see other fans, just be a part of that community spirit, I think that speaks volumes.”
With the field and track being the most pressing concerns, Schools Superintendent Alvin Crawley and fellow ACPS officials made the decision to work on the stadium as one large project rather than making minor improvements on a case-by-case basis, something that school board member Bill Campbell said was the right decision on fiscal and practical grounds.
“When you look at all of those things that need to be done, I would say it was prudent for the superintendent to say there’s an opportunity here to package all of this and get the stadium upgraded,” Campbell said.
The issue of lights is sure to generate a great deal of debate, having been a controversial topic in recent years for the school board and neighbors of the school. Nancy Jennings, president of the Seminary Hill Association, said the organization is steadfast in its opposition to the installation of permanent field lights, even as the school board continues to explore the idea. She noted the long-standing agreement between the school and the neighbors that promised no lights would be built, which was written into the development special use permit for the school’s reconstruction as condition No. 87.
“We are opposed to the lights on the field because they would be invasive in the neighborhood. They would also bring activity in people’s back yards seven nights a week and the agreement that we had for them putting the field there and for expanding the school beyond what it had been before was that they would not put lights on the field,” she said. “Why they are continuing to go down that road, we’re not sure, but we’re hoping to meet with the school board early this year.”
Campbell said the school board will continue to engage with the community and be good neighbors, but spoke of his desire to see some of what he described as the “emotional rhetoric” surrounding the topic die down and give way to more rational conversation.
“Obviously as decision-makers now in 2016, you’ve got to really look at the facts that you can uncover; you have to look at the needs of today, you have to look at the technology of today and then make your decision based on collecting all of that information,” he said. “I ask people too to take a look at the decisions the board will make and the procedures and processes that we will go through.”
Cost estimates for the entire project will likely come out in the next few months, but officials anticipate looking to make use of more public-private partnerships to help fund the renovations, like with the Matthew Maury Schoolyard Initiative that was approved by city council last year.
With the possible involvement of athletic boosters, sponsors and other funding sources, school board chairwoman Karen Graf emphasized her desire to see wide citizen involvement, especially as the field could be used more widely than just by T.C. teams.
“These are [funding] models that ACPS wants to start to grow and have partnerships,” she said. “I think the more people involved in these efforts, it creates a better stewardship for the resources as well, as people are more invested and have ownership of things in the city. Frankly, a lot of these communal resources create community pride or in this case school pride.”