Our View: Vote on T.C. lights a moral and strategic failure

Our View: Vote on T.C. lights a moral and strategic failure
Stadium lights at Witter Recreational Fields off of Duke Street. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

Getting something from a negotiation is probably better than getting nothing, but at times there’s not a huge difference. That’s our take on city council’s vote at Saturday’s public hearing to move ahead with installing lights at the T.C. Williams football stadium.

This decision has three elements – moral, logistic and strategic – and in our view Saturday’s vote failed on two of the three fronts. We will examine them one at a time.

From a moral perspective, the decision is an embarrassment. It’s ironic that the city opened a new school named for the late Ferdinand T. Day just one month prior to this vote to ignore the promise many believe was made to Day and the rest of the “Secret Seven” to never install lights on the T.C. Williams field.

Day’s daughter, Gwen Fuller-Day, told the Times in an Oct. 11 story, “The history beneath T.C. Williams,” that the goal of this group that included her father was to “make sure there was a voice for our community during that time,” while Fran Terrell told the Times the promise to never light the stadium was negotiated by the group.

Member after member of the Woods community testified against installing lights during Saturday’s public hearing, and while all members of council were courteous, in the end only outgoing Mayor Allison Silberberg voted with them. Silberberg’s speech in support of the Woods community was one of her finest moments as mayor, and raises the question: Come January, will anyone on council advocate for those being steamrolled by our local government?

The second aspect of the public hearing was logistic, and on this front council fared better. Real concessions were made from what the planning commission had approved last week. Most encouraging were the ban on using the lights on Sundays and the provision that only ACPS teams may use the lights, not other city or non-city groups. The loudspeaker system was also barred from being used during practice and music was banned from the loudspeakers.

The problem, of course, with these negotiated, logistical issues is the city does not have much credibility at this point on upholding them. What was limited this year may well be allowed next year, since our local government has made it clear it will revise Development Special Use Permits whenever convenient.

Finally, the decision to install lights at Parker-Gray stadium as part of a more than $4 million renovation is strategically shortsighted. After going all of these years without a lighted stadium, why decide now is the time to break faith with the Woods community and install lights, just as it’s becoming clearer that a second high school is going to be needed in Alexandria?

This stadium decision should have been deferred until the high school capacity problem was addressed. A far better solution would have been to build one city-wide stadium to be used by two high schools, while tearing down the existing Parker-Gray stadium and turning that into more unlighted practice fields for T.C. teams.

We respectfully disagree with those who say there’s no other land in the city that could be used for a lighted stadium.

The waterpark on Eisenhower Avenue would have been an ideal location for either a new school or a football stadium – but council on Saturday renewed the lease with NOVA Parks for another seven years. Additional possible locations are other fields on Eisenhower, the field by George Washington Middle School where a stadium previously existed or the soccer fields by Simpson Field on Monroe Avenue.

The problem isn’t a lack of alternate sites, but rather a lack of restraint by council and city staff. They should have had the courage and patience to do the right thing and wait until they resolved the capacity issue.