A group of Alexandria residents is suing the city school district over an effort to install lights at T.C. Williams High School’s football stadium, intensifying a debate reaching back decades.
The residents say the school district is running afoul of a years-old agreement forged between city officials and African American residents who were displaced from homes to make way for the school. They are seeking a court order forbidding lights at the school’s Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Alexandria Circuit Court.
“They’ve acknowledged the existence of the agreement for years and years,” said Lars Liebeler, an attorney representing more than a half-dozen residents. “There have been no lights since 1965. . . . It’s not as though they forgot to put lights up.”
The school system is seeking a permit from the city to modernize Parker-Gray stadium with lighting taller than 60 feet, along with renovations to the track, bathrooms and concession stand, according to a permit application filed by the school district.
The application must be approved by the Alexandria City Council and is scheduled to go in front of council members in October. School district spokeswoman Helen Lloyd said in an email the public will “have an opportunity to voice their concerns” at a hearing during the council meeting.
“These proposed updates are intended to bring T.C. Williams High School into line with other high schools in the Northern Virginia area,” Lloyd said, emphasizing that the school system has “actively engaged the neighbors and wider community around every aspect of the project over the course of the past year and a half.”
A spokesman for the city of Alexandria said the city received the lawsuit Friday and is reviewing it.
“We will respond to the lawsuit through the judicial process,” city spokesman Craig Fifer said.
The Alexandria School Board voted in 2014 to ask the city’s planning commission for permission to reverse a policy barring stadium lights.
At the time, proponents of the lights argued that the darkened field shortchanged young athletes, leaving fewer hours for youth sports. But Liebeler said the lights and noise from nighttime sporting events would disrupt residents’ lives.
African Americans formed neighborhoods in Alexandria after the Civil War, giving rise to the Seminary neighborhood, which is the spot on which T.C. Williams High School was built, court papers say.
The city’s plan to build the school in the early 1960s threatened to displace residents. In exchange for the land, the city agreed to build more than two dozen homes adjacent to the new school, and residents who were forced out were first in line to purchase the homes.
The city also promised residents it would not install permanent lights on athletic fields because the high school was built on a plot of land smaller than the 25 acres required by state law to build new schools, according to the lawsuit.
“The displacement of this community in 1965 was traumatic,” Liebeler wrote in a February letter to Alexandria school board members. “The School’s agreement that it would not light the football field adjacent to these new homes was in large part a recognition of the undue burden this community has suffered to make way for T.C. Williams High School.”