Lights, but no walkway for Lafayette

Lafayette High School has been waiting to get lights for its practice fields and a walkway to the Warhill Sports Complex since at least 2009.

Lafayette may see one of those two projects come to pass sooner than anticipated.

Although Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools Acting Superintendent Olwen Herron recommended removing both items from the capital improvement plan Tuesday, Lafayette could see lights for its fields before the end of the school year.

Herron said she took the permanent lights out of the plan so they could address the issue sooner. The division is looking for funding sources to purchase portable lights for Lafayette, outside of the capital improvement plan process. She said the portable lights are expected to be less expensive that the permanent ones, which were estimated to cost upwards of $600,000.

Adding lights to the school's practice fields have been included in the W-JCC capital improvement plan since at least 2009, the earliest available budget on the division's website.

In the version of the plan shared with the School Board Sept. 20, lights for the fields were pushed from 2018 to 2023 so a report could be made detailing what athletic facilities each school has to ensure giving lights wouldn't be inequitable, according to school division chief financial officer Christina Berta at that meeting.

Lafayette booster club member Bambi Walters pointed out that Jamestown and Warhill high schools have lights on their baseball and softball fields — fields that Lafayette doesn't have. The report given to the board after that meeting noted that none of W-JCC's high schools have lights on their football or field hockey practice spaces.

"A lot of things have been said about equity at Lafayette and we're just trying to maximize space that we have," Walters said. "Each school's campus is different in terms of what fields they have. We primarily need football field lights, a field that can be used for many other sports."

Flexibility with Lafayette's field space would increase with the mobile lighting. Depending on the cost and need, W-JCC spokeswoman Betsy Overkamp-Smith said the school would get four to five lighting units. The division is looking at lights with wheels that can be towed by a vehicle to other locations, and are still just as bright as permanent field lights, she said.

For years, the only place for teams to practice after dark is the Warhill Sports Complex. But that requires transportation to get to, or a 1.4-mile walk via Longhill Road since administrators closed the swamp shortcut students used to take.

"It'll help us keep at least two, if not more, teams here," Athletic Director Andy Linn said. said. "It's going to help all our outdoor teams."

Junior varsity and possibly varsity soccer would be able to stay at Lafayette to practice, as would field hockey, he said. It wouldn't affect baseball and softball because Lafayette lacks those fields, he said.

"(The lights) have been a longstanding need." Ownby said. "I'm glad they addressed it quickly and our athletic director and central office worked together to come up with solution."

Whether Warhill and Jamestown would also use the portable lights hasn't been discussed in-depth yet, Overkamp-Smith said. The request for lights has primarily come from Lafayette so these mobile lights would be considered Lafayette's, not for division-wide use except in special cases, she said.

If the lights work well, Jamestown and Warhill may see a similar set-up on their fields.

Lisa Ownby, a contender for the open Powhatan District seat on the division's School Board, said she wasn't sure the portable lights were a permanent solution, but were good in the short term.

"I'm happy with the solution of the lights for now, but let's see how they work," said Dot Matthews, Ownby's opponent in the Powhatan District School Board race. "Lafayette needs to have field lights and if that works for now and in the future, then that's great."

The other surprise from Herron's recommendations presented Tuesday was the removal of plans for a walkway between Lafayette and the Warhill Sports Complex.

Herron said she worried about student safety on the walkway because it would be isolated, in the woods, and students would be largely unsupervised. Vice Chairwoman Kyra Cook said she agreed with Herron, but she would be in favor of building the pathway in conjunction with the county's parks and recreation department.

Berta reminded board members Tuesday that Herron's recommendation is not binding and they could adjust it before it goes to the funding bodies. The capital improvement plan ultimately must be approved by the James City County Board of Supervisors and the Williamsburg City Council.

Staff writer Ryan McKinnon contributed to this report.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-298-5172.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
55°