Our View: T.C. lights agreement is illuminating

Our View: T.C. lights agreement is illuminating
(Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

We’ve contended on these pages for the last three years that no lights should be built at the T.C. Williams Parker-Gray stadium because of a verbal promise that many in Alexandria, including descendants of those involved, believed was made to nearby Black neighbors when the high school was first built.

After the death of Ferdinand Day, the last living member of the “secret seven” group of Black leaders to whom the city allegedly made the promise, Alexandria City Public Schools moved ahead with plans to light the field as part of its stadium modernization plan. Neighbors eventually filed four separate lawsuits, which have dragged on for the past two years.

All four lawsuits were resolved in one fell swoop on Monday. The stadium will get its lights and neighbors get significant restrictions on field usage and an enforcement mechanism.

While we still view this as a broken promise and therefore a stain on the honor of ACPS, and by extension the City of Alexandria, it also appears to be the best deal neighbors were realistically going to get.

The terms seem to provide most of what both sides were seeking: the ability to host home football and other games for T.C. Williams sports teams and protections for the neighbors from virtually unlimited use of a lighted stadium.

The number of nights that lights can be used for sports games is a reasonable 50, excluding playoffs. That should afford all T.C. Williams students playing fall or spring sports the ability to compete at their own school in front of friends and family, which should enhance the high school experience of these student athletes.

Conversely, the ban on use of the stadium’s lights by any entity other than ACPS provides relief for neighbors. Outside groups, Alexandria’s recreation teams and other entities are explicitly prohibited from using the lights at Parker-Gray stadium.

The agreement also spells out restrictions on who can operate the stadium lights, including an explicit ban on students doing so. The agreement contains time limits on how late lights can stay on, prohibits the field from being lighted on Sundays, contains noise restrictions and forbids use of the lights during the winter sports season and during the summer in between spring and fall sports seasons.

The city has a dubious history of enforcing restrictions on development special use permits it issues. Case in point is the city’s own 2004 DSUP issued prior to the T.C. Williams high school rebuild that states lights would not be built at the stadium. So neighbors were wise to insist on an enforcement mechanism that includes penalties.

If ACPS violates the terms of the agreement, neighbors have the ability to take the dispute back to the court if concerns can’t be resolved by a proscribed process with ACPS and through mediation.

The court would then have numerous ways to penalize ACPS for noncompliance, including “injunctive relief,” the ability to suspend the use of lights and issuance of a civil contempt order against the Alexandria School Board. The potential penalties are also open-ended and include “such other or further equitable relief as the Court may deem just and reasonable against the School Board.”

It is our fervent hope that ACPS approaches this agreement in good faith, with the intention of upholding and enforcing the limitations it has agreed to. It is specifically the job of Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D and each member of the School Board to proactively make that happen.

One way that ACPS could demonstrate its good will would be to schedule meetings with neighbors prior to the fall and spring sports seasons that lay out the district’s planned dates for lighting the field. While planned games are subject to change due to weather or other conflicts, providing neighbors with an approximate list of dates would go far toward steering their relationship with the school’s neighbors in a more cordial direction.

The manner in which ACPS approaches this agreement will be illuminating.