By Kassidy McDonald │ [email protected]
At a special called meeting on July 7, the Alexandria City Public Schools School Board voted on a motion to use Simpson Field for a minimum of 10 years as recreational space. The board voted that they do not need to use the field to construct an elementary school as part of their Capital Improvement Program over the next 10 years.
According to the meeting’s agenda memo, as part of the Concept Plan Amendment Potomac Yards/Potomac Greens, a portion of Potomac Yard Park consisting of Monroe Fields 1 and 2 were made available for the construction of a new ACPS school if it is decided by City Council and the school board to locate a new school there. If ACPS determines that it does not want to use this site for a school, it is returned to the city for its use. Alternatively, as an interim use, ACPS staff can negotiate the use of the fields by the parks department, accord- ing to the memo.
Simpson Field is located in the Del Ray neighborhood on the east end of E. Monroe Avenue. The four-acre field is used by Recreational Parks and Cultural Activities for baseball and soccer fields. RPCA has also shown interest in upgrading fields to synthetic turf and adding lighting.
If it is decided that the field will be used as part of the space to build a new school site, and the board and council decide that more land is needed for construction of the new school, then up to an additional two acres of adjacent land will be made available for the new school.
The site has been designated for available school construction for over a decade, but the field is currently frequently used by the community and ACPS for recreational activities as well as soccer and baseball games.
Outgoing Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D. attended the board’s meeting and recommended they allow the use of Simpson Field for a minimum of 10 years and permit staff to negotiate the final details of field use by RPCA.
Board members then took the time to ask questions, with member Michelle Rief asking about the specific language regarding the size of the site in the Concept Plan Amendment.
“What we have determined is that the four acres of the soccer field’s space is what’s been designated for school use,” Erika Gulick, director of capital programs, planning and design, said to answer Rief’s question.
Rief then asked whether the two additional acres, which make up the baseball fields, could be used if the board and council decide that they want to construct a new school at the site. Staff said it could.
Rief said the feasibility study was conducted a long time ago and that she would like to see more information to reach a conclusion on whether or not there could be a successful construction of a new elementary school at this site.
“That said, I do think we have a very ambitious Capital Improvement Program over the next 10 years. We’re planning on modernizing a number of different school sites and adding capacity that way, and we don’t have a plan in our 10 year CIP to add a school to this site.”
“We’re certainly limited in the space that we can build schools in the city,” member Abdel-Rahman Elnoubi said. “We’re also limited in the space we can use for rec activity and for fields.”
Gulick said it is important to make sure that the language is right.
“We don’t want to give it [the field] away forever; we’re just letting it be used a little more effectively for at least the next 10 years. And so that making sure that language is correct so that when it is time in 10 or 15, or 20 or 50 years for ACPS to build a school on that site, we have the city’s full support,” Gulick said.
Hutchings then further explained his recommendation to the board.
“What I was hoping was that the board does ensure we keep that 10 year minimum mark so that we’re not saying, ‘permanently this space we don’t want.’ We don’t want to put ourselves in a situation where, 10 years from now, there’s another board and none of us are sitting around this table … so we don’t want to just give things away, but we understand there’s a need right now for field space,” Hutchings said.
Hutchings called for explicit language in the decision, stating that there should be a minimum of 10 years, so nobody in the future can criticize the current board for giving up the field forever.
“It needs to be another conversation, after those 10 years, ‘Where do we go from here?’” Hutchings explained.
“If we’ve learned anything over the last few years, we should be flexible,” Elnoubi said. “You never know, today we may have a capacity issue. 10 years from now we may not have a capacity issue.”
Vice Chair Jacinta Greene said she was excited about the additional fields for the kids and for the community.
“I hope that we’ll keep in the top of our minds the underserved and underprivileged and make sure that comes up in our negotiations, because I’m sure private entities will also have use of these fields. A lot of our families aren’t able to pay private and pay the fees to participate in certain activities,” Greene said.
“I hope that we can always keep this in mind as we go through the negotiation processes for the field,” she added.
Elnoubi made a motion to approve the item, which Board Member Kelly Carmichael Booz seconded. It passed unanimously.