Not on track

Not on track
Francis C. Hammond Middle School.(Photo/ACPS)

There’s an old adage about someone who “cuts off their nose to spite their face.” While certainly a bizarre image, it means that someone inflicts harm on themselves in their great hurry to get at someone else.

It appears that’s what the city’s doing by building light towers literally right on the track at Francis C. Hammond Middle School.

There are several important facets to this issue – and a lot of attendant noise. But here’s the bottom line: The City of Alexandria is currently deliberately destroying a track used by a middle school and nearby neighbors, many of them low-income, in Alexandria’s West End for no good reason.

The elements at play here involve equity, honesty, a lawsuit and plain old common sense.

The word equity is tossed around a lot in this city, often in a self-congratulatory way. But too often decisions are made that are anything but equitable.

Hammond is surrounded by apartment complexes filled with low-income residents. Anyone whose child played soccer on the sunken field not-so-fondly remembered as “Death Valley” knows what a ne- glected wreck the grounds of the school were for years. As Alexandria resident Frank Putzu points out in his commentary on the next page, this finally began to change a decade ago, when the track at Hammond was built.

A mere 10 years later, Alexandria’s City Council and School Board are allowing this track to be destroyed so that an adjacent field can be lit – and mainly used at night by adults. Imagine the uproar if a comparable facility were being destroyed at George Washington Middle School in much more affluent Del Ray.

Putzu and many other residents are complaining that city staff have pulled a classic bait and switch maneuver. They claim that during hearings on potentially lighting the field at Hammond, presentations showed poles for the lights outside the track.

But, oops, staff apparently forgot about the city’s setback requirements and so when the matter came before council for a vote, the light tower had been moved from outside the track to the first lane on it.

The issue at hand is not whether it’s discernible that the revised drawings in a graphic depicting tiny light poles at the back of the large project application clearly showed the light poles’ location. The question is:

Did City Council members knowingly vote to destroy the track at Francis C. Hammond Middle School last November? And does the School Board agree with this destruction of Alexandria City Public Schools property? Every member of both bodies should honestly answer this question.

The Hammond situation is further complicated by the existence of a lawsuit from people opposed to lighting the field at Hammond, regardless of where lights would be placed. The only prism through which the city’s actions on this topic make any sense at all is that they will go to great lengths to “win” on this issue of lighting fields.

A verbal pledge was broken when lights were added to the football field at then-T.C. Williams High School back in 2018. The subsequent decision to light fields throughout the city has also been contentious – and litigious.

We have no qualms with lighting many-to-most of the athletic fields in the City of Alexandria. We actually are agnostic on whether this particular field at Hammond should be lit. But destroying the Hammond track, a useful community asset, to light an adjacent field is utterly lacking in common sense.

We hope Vice Mayor Amy Jackson and Councilor Alyia Gaskins are able to fix this fiasco, as leadership on this issue is sorely needed.