By Chris Teale (File photo)
The proposal to revamp Parker-Gray Stadium on the campus of T.C. Williams High School received strong support last week at a public hearing of the Alexandria City School Board on its proposed capital budget.
But while the controversial plan to add lights to the field was given strong backing by some, opponents warned board members of consequences associated with pursuing the change.
The board held the public hearing December 1, less than a month after Schools Superintendent Alvin Crawley proposed an ambitious plan for fiscal 2018 to 2027 totaling $515.7 million. The plan’s centerpiece is a full demolition of the Minnie Howard campus of T.C. Williams and its replacement with a building for ninth and 10th graders, adding 717 seats at a total cost of $118.5 million.
It also includes renovations of three elementary schools, a new elementary school on the West End in addition to the proposed school that uses retrofitted office space on North Beauregard Street and a new middle school.
But the project to draw the most public speakers was the proposal to renovate Parker-Gray Stadium, a project proposed to cost $4.1 million in fiscal 2018 under Crawley’s plan. Earlier this year, Alexandria City Public Schools issued a request for proposals to select architectural and engineering firms to design a renovated stadium, including field lights.
Several members of the T.C. Williams soccer team, including head coach Peter Abed, spoke of the importance of having lights at Parker-Gray Stadium to build a better sense of community, particularly among varsity student-athletes and their younger peers.
“Unfortunately, myself and others don’t get the chance to go out and showcase our talents at night in front of all Alexandria and all the other fans who travel into Alexandria for sports,” said T.C. senior Max Carroll.
“It really is important to have the little kids in the Alexandria Soccer Association play on fields they know they can play on in just a few years and win championships for T.C. Williams,” said T.C. senior Matias Hendi.
Neighbors of the field have maintained a long-standing opposition to installing lights, given the long-standing agreement between the school and residents not to build them that has existed for decades. The agreement was added to the school’s development special use permit when it was rebuilt almost a decade ago as condition No. 87.
Local resident Frank Beyers said it was “beyond comprehension” that the school board is continuing to pursue lights on the field, while Bill Goff warned of legal action if the plan to install lights continues. Goff also said the $4.1 million projected price tag was too low and not a good investment.
“Past history has shown that the school board has never made good decisions on budgets, and this is no exception,” he said.
Tommy Park, executive director of the Alexandria Soccer Association, said that while he supports installing lights at Parker-Gray Stadium, trust must be re-established between the school and the wider community. Local resident Sue Setliff said the two sides must find a way forward.
“The history of distrust and division around T.C. Williams is legendary,” she said. “I want to focus on today, and what the school board can do to make a change, move the ball past 50 years of controversy.”
Also discussed was the planned redevelopment of the Minnie Howard campus, with T.C. teacher and capacity committee member Beth Coast saying that the plan to begin the design phase in fiscal 2026 and construction in fiscal 2027 is too long to wait.
She said that the cafeteria is overcrowded at lunch on both campuses, that students can find it difficult to get into elective classes, and that the testing of a large number of students that requires the auxiliary gym and library to be shut down is damaging learning.
“[It] is way too long to wait,” she said. “The capital improvement program shows that the T.C. Williams King Street campus will be nearly 4,000 students in six years. We’re aware the city council and board face numerous competing capital projects, but the enrollment projections convincingly demonstrate the magnitude of this crisis.”
Coast praised Crawley’s bold proposals to look to solve the capacity crunch in ACPS, where enrollment is anticipated to rise by 4 percent each year and not plateau until 2030. Data prepared by ACPS staff shows the system has a seating deficit of 1,318 in fiscal 2017, serving 15,354 students in a capacity of 14,036. That deficit is expected to be 3,496 in fiscal 2027.
Joy Cameron, president of the Alexandria Parent Teacher Association Council, said city council has sold the school system short by not fully funding its needs. She added that parents are ready to engage with councilors about ACPS’ budgetary needs during the city’s budget process, which accelerates in the new year.
The school board is slated to adopt the capital budget on December 15 after several add/delete sessions.