ALEXANDRIA, VA – Alexandria Living Legend McArthur Myers only found out yesterday that a large oak tree is scheduled to be cut down at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, to make way for the new concession stand for the Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium. But today he was at the school to protest its being cut down, dubbing it a “witness tree” in the process.
“If this tree is really 150-years old or so…for me, this is a witness tree, specifically in an African-American community,” Myers told The Zebra. The age of the tree has not yet been confirmed but Myers cited a timeline of notable events including Reconstruction, lynchings, the 1918 Spanish flu, the civil rights movement, and desegregation to name a few, during which the “healthy, non-diseased tree” could have been present while sprouting its branches and digging its roots deep into the Alexandria ground.
“There’s not that many gems in this city, and this is one in my opinion that should be kept.”
T.C. Williams High School, home of the Titans, is the biggest high school in Virginia but its stadium has been in need of a renovation for some time. Alexandria Public Schools admits that the sound system is broken, the press box has been condemned, and it offers no working bathrooms for the public.
One shady source of comfort in that area is the single oak tree by the concession stand that has stood for generations. And now it is scheduled to be torn down as part of the renovation.
At the site today, concerned citizens McArthur Myers, Boyd Walker, Paul Friedman, and a number of other neighbors came forward to protest its destruction. Friedman remarked, “This is a magnificent tree. It towers over the football field. When the new high school was created, this tree was left here. I have to wonder whether the people who designed the new school gave consideration to the tree when they were designing what they were doing here. If so, how did that get lost at this stage of the game?”
Interview today with McArthur Adams and Paul Friedman
Myers added, “This is a healthy tree. This tree is history. All we’re asking is for a stay so they can look again and see about changing the plans to avoid taking this tree down. We’re hoping they can find a solution that doesn’t involve that.”
Other updates of the stadium’s modernization include:
* The addition of an eighth lane on the track
* Replacement of the artificial turf
* The addition of restrooms
* A new concession stand
* A ticket booth
* Replacement of the score board and placement on the other end of the field
* Egress safety lighting
* A new press box to replace the condemned one on the other side of the field to improve the quality of lighting for images and video for media.
* Field lighting
* An upgraded the sound system to comply with the City of Alexandria’s Noise Ordinance, enhance the quality of the sound, disperse the sound via multiple speakers and direct it away from houses along the fence line.
Neighbor Susie Saffelle Hughes has been bringing attention to the situation over the tree on her Facebook page and has said, “It is a beautiful old tree, my husband has been the track coach at TC for over 25 years. He has had his cookouts and group meetings under that tree because of its shade. When kids come off the track they head for the picnic tables under that tree for shade. It also provides parents and grandparents a place away from the hot bleachers to cool off. There is not another good shade tree near the track or field.”
There have been six community meetings held around the design of the new stadium. In addition, four smaller meetings have been held with specific groups to resolve concerns that have arisen during the community engagement process.
The tree was brought up at the June 10, 2019 meeting where it was noted that dead trees would need to be removed and planners “would like to look into the possibility of moving the concession stand and saving the old oak tree that’s been there for many years.”
Later, in a staff report that went to City Council, it was stated: “For the proposed new concession and restroom facilities, different options were explored in order to balance the applicant’s design objective of moving structures away from property lines as far as possible, with the additional objective to create a public gathering place with good on-site circulation. A design choice was to use the buildings themselves as a barrier between site activity and the adjacent residential properties.
Initial designs tried to save a large tree, but the resulting layout removes the tree in order to place the buildings farthest east away from property lines. The result diverts on-site foot traffic and activity away from adjacent properties while creating an active public space around the restrooms and concessions that is intimate and close to the activity of the playing field.”
School and City officials have been contacted and we will update this story as information comes forward.