T. C. Williams' Stadium Lights


Alexandria Times article



Arminta Wood: Time to stand up for equity

My View | Arminta Wood: Time to stand up for equity
Arminta Wood (Courtesy photo)

Thank goodness our country is finally waking up to the need to address racial equity. Whether you are a lifelong Alexandrian or new to our city, all of us need to know Alexandria’s history. In addition to what happened long ago, we should remember what happened less than two years ago when our city had an opportunity to take a stand for racial equity – but made another choice.

At 94 and as an African-American Alexandrian, I would like to share publicly what I have believed privately for far too long.

As there seems to be broad consensus to consider renaming T.C. Williams High School, let’s remember the history of how this school came to be. The neighborhood where T.C. Williams sits was one of the few in Alexandria in which African Americans were allowed to purchase and own our own property after the Civil War.

The families living there in the 1960s, including mine, had owned and occupied their homes for generations. Alexandria back then still had large tracts of undeveloped land.

Yet, Alexandria’s elected leadership, in cooperation with the avowed segregationist School Superintendent T.C. Williams, determined that this African-American community, which included our own school, store and church and extended from Quaker Lane near Bishop Lane all the way back to Chinquapin Park and across King Street up to Braddock Road, would be the location for a new high school.

The new school had to be built after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision ruled that segregated schools like Alexandria’s were unconstitutional. Disparaging remarks about the condition of our homes and the lack of paved roads and city sanitation – which were, of course, responsibilities the city had ignored – were used as justification for the displacement of our families. Residents of our community were paid pennies on the dollar for our homes, and nothing for the vast land around our homes.

Similar to most American families, these homes and land were our families’ largest economic asset, and what the city did was an economic and moral tragedy. Many families could not afford to purchase one of the new, smaller homes along Quaker Lane, Woods Avenue and Woods Place and were forced to move from the city.

The descendants of those original families who could purchase a new home, like myself, still live in many of the homes in this community, as they have been passed down from generation to generation. One of the families still residing in our community today owned a home at 3330 King St., which is the address of T.C. Williams High School.

When our families were displaced, we were told that the football field would serve as a green buffer between the new homes and the large school building. A promise was made that the field would never have stadium lights due to the extreme proximity of our homes to the field and the acknowledgment that stadium lights would diminish the value of our homes.

This promise went unquestioned for 40 years. When it was time to rebuild the high school in 2004, the permit to build the new school contained Condition 85, which prohibited the installation of lights at Parker-Gray Stadium.

But in 2013, then-Mayor Bill Euille stated during a council meeting that the city needed to discuss lights at the stadium. He acknowledged that the agreement existed, but he said that agreements were meant to be negotiated.

In spite of the promise made in the 1960s and the addition of Condition 85 in 2004, Alexandria City Public Schools took the mayor’s words in 2013 to heart and began planning to remove Condition 85.

In October 2018, city council voted 6-1 to support the ACPS plan to remove Condition 85 prohibiting lights and move forward with a multi-million-dollar renovation of Parker-Gray Stadium, which includes install- ing permanent lighting on the football field.

Then-Mayor Allison Silberberg was the lone vote against removing Condition 85. She offered the first public apology by any city official regarding the shameful displacement of our families in the 1960s, and said she would honor the promise made and not ask our families to once again sacrifice our quality of life and the value of our homes, as our ancestors had been forced to do decades earlier.

Unfortunately, when the rest of city council, including our current mayor and two current council members, had the opportunity to stand up with her and acknowledge that our African-American community had not been treated fairly in the past, and that this legacy of inequity should not be perpetuated, they instead chose to take the politically popular path of removing the protection our community had been promised.

We urged them to find another, more suitable location for a first-class city stadium for our student athletes that would not require more sacrifice from our community. Those pleas were ignored.

The recent hiring of a race and social equity officer by the City of Alexandria to “ensure that policy decisions advance race and social equity for all Alexandrians” is a visible step in our goal to become a more equitable community.

But as city and school elected and appointed officials write and talk about their commitment to racial equity and justice and the renaming of T.C. Williams High School, I urge them to reflect upon and reverse the 2018 decision to add lights to Parker-Gray Stadium.

It is time to stand up for equity, instead of merely giving it lip service by writing and talking about equity. This would send a message to the young people in our city that equity is not always about doing the popular thing, but it involves making decisions that do not perpetuate a long legacy of racial discrimination against communities of color in our city.

Our lives should have mattered more in the 1960s, they should have mattered more in 2018 and they should matter more now. Black lives have always mattered.

-Arminta Wood, Alexandria


Five families who live in the Seminary Civic Association have sued the City in the Alexandria Circuit Court over the abolition of Condition 85 of the DSUP for T. C. Williams High School, which promised lights would not be put on this field. All Alexandria judges recused themselves, so a Loudon judge will preside.
Over SHA's objections, City Council adopted a text amendment to put 80-foot light poles in 34 schools/parks and 18 dog parks. The text of the amendment was NOT available for review even the day before the vote (Friday, 12 Oct). The City claims these lights are only for athletic complexes (no definition) and added a lot of other vague terminology; "the amendment does not affect existing facilities, nor does it allow such a facility or lighting unless it is already a permitted use in the underlying zoning district." Councilman Paul Smedberg added a friendly amendment to the text during Council deliberations. The ACPS heralded the text amendment as lights on the stadium at T. C. Williams High School. It may have unintended consequences to all neighborhoods in the City.
Since lights were NOT allowed at the T. C. stadium for over 40 years, City Council had to abrogate Condition 85 of the DSUP for T. C. Williams High School. Council. It then went on to approve two new Conditions 131 and 132 that restricted the lighting and sound system to use only by the ACPS for athletic and academic events. ACPS cannot rent the lights and sound system to other groups. Guess we must spend a couple of million dollars to put in the lights and sound system before we know if they work properly within legal limits and, if not, they cannot be used. They must meet zoning requirements for light spillage onto private property and the City's noise regulations. Staff claims they will but independent studies paid for by the residents of Bishop Lane indicate they cannot; crowd noise from Saturday afternoon football games now violates the noise regulations. A new sound
Plans for the new football stadium, which includes lighting for the field, are expected to be filed with the City in September. Residents who oppose the lights are represented by a law firm in DC.
Nan recommends reading two Alexandria Times articles: A school cook's forgotten civil rights stand by Jim Mcelhatton and the editorial Should Alexandria's high school bear the name 'T.C. Williams?'

A recent poll about lighting the stadium field showed 53% in favor and 47% against lights. There was a flurry of last minute inputs from sports clubs outside of SHA which greatly influenced the final tally. The plan is to rent it nightly to sports clubs; i.e. adult soccer teams.

Excerpt from the article that has great photos: In the fall of 1958, longtime Alexandria schools superintendent Thomas Chambliss "T.C." Williams took the unusual step of firing a black school cafeteria worker who by all accounts did a stellar job.

The cook, Blois Hundley, 42, a mother of eight, had just joined in a federal civil rights lawsuit to force Alexandria schools to let her children attend a whites-only school. To Williams, this was an unforgivable, fireable offense. He called Hundley's participation in the civil rights lawsuit "a slap in the face". Hundley never worked for Alexandria's public school system again.

Sixty years later, the name T.C. Williams is world famous - not just for the high school named after him on King Street, but for the idealized story of integration made famous by Hollywood in the movie "Remember the Titans". By contrast, the name Blois Hundley is all but forgotten.

About 30 neighbors attended a community meeting about the new stadium planned for T. C. William High School. It was led by a School Board representative and a consultant. The school board members present were not allowed to talk. After a review of the most recent design for the stadium—lights, sound system, and refreshment stand—neighbors expressed their continuing frustrations with the design. They announced that they are now represented by a DC law firm, pro bono, which is looking into how their civil rights are being violated.
The ACPS has scheduled public meetings about the plans for the T. C. Williams stadium but did not allow SHA residents to say their reasons for opposing having lights on the stadium on November 27, 2017. SHA residents were told they will have a separate "make-up" meeting where they can voice their opposition at 7 pm on February 28 at the Addison Building of the Virginia Theological Seminary. The final public ACPS meeting about the stadium is on March 12 at 6pm at Minnie Howard. Not sure if SHA residents can speak.
The plan for the TCW stadium is with the Planning Commission. No word on the cost; likely in the $5 million range.
The SHA Board of Directors voted to financially support Area 1 and 2 residents in their efforts that the new TC Williams Stadium meet the requirements of the DSUP and not include stadium lights on the field.
The School Board allocated $320,000 in its FY2016 budget for studying improvements to the T. C. Williams stadium.
The School Board found $1.25 Million for the T. C. Williams stadium but that amount does not include the cost of the new field or the lights: $320,000 for concept and design, $300,000 for concession stands and ticket booth, $75,000 for press box, $250,000 for visitors' bleachers (no space), $250,000 for landscaping, $50,000 annual contract to maintain the grounds.
The SHA Board of Directors remains opposed to efforts to install lights on the football stadium at T. C. Williams High School (TCW). Since the 1960s, the City's Mayors and Members of City Council have promised us verbally and through zoning restrictions - specifically Condition #85 of the school's DSUP - that no lights would be erected on this field, which is located 20' from some single family homes. Nevertheless, the School Board spent funds to study the feasibility of installing lights on the stadium.
SHA Board Members continue to support Condition #85, which became a written agreement in 2003 when the City wanted to expand the size of TCW. In the 2003 DSUP for the larger building, Condition #85 reads: "No permanent stadium lighting shall be installed at the School stadium or on any other athletic fields, including the proposed new practice field". In 2013, this condition was amended with the approval of the neighbors and SHA to allow for lights on six new tennis courts that were supposed to be built last spring. Condition #85 now reads: "No permanent stadium lighting shall be installed at the School stadium or on any other athletic fields except as to allow for the lighted tennis courts proposed under the DSUP2013-0014 submission".

SHA residents spoke at the School Board meeting about the problems and flaws with the feasibility study done by Kimley-Horn for putting lights on the football field at TCW. Nevertheless, the School Board approved further study of the proposal in a vote of 8-1 with Pat Hennig voting against pursuing this option. According to the feasibility study:

  • The cost for the lights is now estimated to be about $4.5 million. [Note: In September, Kimley-Horn estimated the cost of the lights alone between $650,000 and $750,000 and with other associated items about a $1 million.]
  • Lights will be on six 90' poles, which violates the height limit on school buildings.
  • Excessive light from the field will spill onto at least two private properties in violation of zoning standards.
  • The feasibility and cost of addition lights on the bleachers and concession stand is unknown.
  • The amount of light generated by additional lighting needed is unknown.
School Board member Christopher Lewis led a community meeting during which citizens discussed the feasibility study done by Kimley-Horn for putting lights on the football field at TCW.
During a one-hour public meeting with the School Board, several members of SHA explained the reasons for Condition #85 of the DSUP for TCW that prohibits lights on the football stadium. School Board members claimed ignorance of the history of the historic community decimated by the construction of the school and ignorance of the existing agreements between us and the City that this particular field would not have lights.
The City has documented that the ACPS has failed to implement the required landscaping at TCW, but no plan or timeframe for implementation is available as of October 2014.