To light, or not to light, seems to be the question for the girls’ softball field at J.E.B. Stuart Park in Falls Church. The field used by J.E.B. Stuart High School teams actually is owned by the Fairfax County Park Authority but, as is the case with several local public schools, park fields are shared with school teams.
The Stuart girls’ softball field is the only one in the county without lights.
Federal requirements raised concerns that the Fairfax County Public School system may be in violation of Title IX governing equal facilities for girls’ sports. Since at least 2003, the school system, the Park Authority, local sports advocates, and even the Fairfax County Commission for Women, have advocated for lighting the Stuart Park field. It is not a simple remedy, though. The 18-acre park is surrounded on three sides by homes, and the park is quite literally at their back fence. Any proposals for lights must be subject to full discussion in the community before schools and parks reach agreement on the future action. Some upgrades – new pad, fence, infield, and turf – were installed in the summer of 2007, but no lights. Under county regulations, the park’s Master Plan must be amended to allow the installation of lights.
A public comment meeting was conducted by the Park Authority in early April regarding a draft master plan amendment that proposes adding athletic field lights on the recently renovated diamond field. According to the meeting notice of invitation, “lighting technology has improved measurably over the years prompting the Park Authority to adopt stricter lighting standards that reduce lighting impacts to adjacent properties.” A demonstration of the new lighting was held at Nottoway Park; attendees have reported that similar fixtures there have little or no light spillover.
The pros and cons of the master plan proposal are many and varied. Petitions, for and against, have been submitted to the Park Authority. Abutting neighbors express concern that light pollution will be significant. They also point out that, living so close to the Stuart football field, they already are impacted by high-intensity stadium lights. More lights could add insult to injury. Additional noise, later games, the probability of more games scheduled outside of school teams, and a negative effect on property values are other arguments against the proposal.
Arguments in support for lighting the field include meeting Title IX requirements, giving children and their parents new opportunities for physical and personal development, reducing the need to bus Stuart teams to other locations for “home” games, and a positive effect on property values. After all comments have been considered (the 30-day public comment period closed on May 4), the plan amendment and public comments will be presented to the Park Authority Board for final disposition, probably in mid-June.