The Arlington School Board last week approved a memorandum of understanding with the county that clears the way for a synthetic grass field at the Washington-Lee High School stadium.
The new turf, which lasts about 10 years and is more durable than natural grass, will allow for more use of the field and require less maintenance, officials said. The county will spend about $700,000 to install the turf and $225,000 to install "dark sky" lighting that will focus more light on the field and less on the houses that surround it. The school system will be responsible for maintaining the field.
The agreement, approved by a 4 to 1 vote, outlines the times of day that the school will use the field and when youth and adult community groups will be allowed to use it. In spring and fall, lights will go out at 11 p.m., and in summer and winter at 10 p.m.
School Board Vice Chair Dave Foster voted against the agreement because he said the public had not had enough notice about it, and because the county had not yet answered the board's request to consider a slightly earlier lights-out time on some nights.
Some neighbors of the high school had opposed the new turf, saying the extended activity and use of the field would bring annoyances to their street at night.
Linda Kyles, who has lived across from the field, on North Stafford Street, for 20 years, said the new turf and longer playing times would bring "extra traffic, extra noise and extra litter" to her street.
Even now, with a natural turf field that cannot be used as much because it wears down more easily, Kyles said she has had problems.
"They peel out of the parking lots, tooting their horns good night; they play loud music on their radios," she said. "Some of us like to go to bed at 10 o'clock and sleep." Parking is also a problem on game nights, she added.
School Board Chair Libby Garvey said she would have liked to see fewer late nights allowed, but she endorsed the agreement, which she said would result in "a nice community field."
Brian Hannigan, chairman of the Arlington Sports Commission and the father of a Washington-Lee athlete, said the change was badly needed in an area where demand for sports fields has been growing.
"We are very, very pleased," he said, adding that Arlington had been designated by Sports Illustrated as "Sportstown USA" for Virginia in part because of the county's commitment to installing artificial turf fields.
Arlington has three other synthetic turf fields: one near the Pentagon, one next to Gunston Middle School, and one at Wakefield High School.
Hannigan said the county also wants to install the turf on a field near Yorktown High School.
Yorktown's fields are part of Greenbrier Park, which is owned by the county, so although the School Board will participate in determining times for school usage of the new field, Foster said he doesn't expect the board to be involved in decisions about how late it is used.
The new Washington-Lee turf will prevent game cancellations due to rain, said School Board member Elaine S. Furlow, adding that community groups will see a sharp upswing in field availability.
"I calculated that for the county recreation leagues, that increases the amount of playing time by 900 percent or something like that," she said. Furlow said she recognized the concerns of residents. "But how do you weigh these interests of a stable and calm atmosphere, as opposed to a place where wonderful sports go on for kids and adults?"
To Kyles, who had asked the board to approve a lights-out time closer to 9 or 9:30 p.m., the scale did not tip in the right direction.
"They said that was a compromise -- I don't see it as a compromise," she said. "Our only recourse is to move, I guess."