BRUNSWICK — With weeds growing and cracks forming on its aging surface, the high school track has been deemed a safety hazard and added to the list of major facilities slated for replacement by the School Department.
But the department is unsure of how to foot the bill.
At a School Board meeting Aug. 8, facilities committee member Sarah Singer delivered the news that for the school “to continue operating a quality facility (the track) needs to be excavated and replaced,” but the funds for the project aren’t in the budget.
She said the 21-year-old track was recently evaluated by the Massachusetts-based design firm Huntress Associates, which put the cost of replacement at a higher-than-anticipated $850,000.
“Everyone did a big gulp when that number came out,” Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said Sept 2. He added that the high cost will cover reconstruction of all track and field structures – for instance, the pole-vault and jump areas, too.
Perzanoski also assured board members that the School Department has properly maintained the track over the years. “It’s at its life’s end,” he said.
According to Singer’s facilities report, tracks have a lifespan of about 20 years.
The facilities committee is now eyeing creative ways to fund the project, and discussed on Aug. 8 the possibility of sharing the cost with the Parks and Recreation Department. Singer also floated the idea of raising the money with community contributions, as the town has in the past.
The town may need “to step forward and support this again,” Singer said, referring to the community-led effort that took place more than two decades ago to raise money for the existing track.
These options are “all in discussion,” Perzanoski agreed. He said it is possible that funding for the track will get bundled into a school construction bond referendum expected to take place next June. The referendum will ask residents whether they want to authorize funding a new elementary school and repairs at the junior high school.
Although the price tag of the proposed design induced some anxiety, Town Councilor David Watson was not among them. Watson, a master certified track official, helped design a new track and has high hopes it will come to fruition.
In an interview Tuesday night, Watson said there was discussion several years ago about resurfacing the track, which would cost only about $250,000.
By Watson’s account, however, that “would be good money and throwing it to bad,” because the resurfacing project would not treat the subterranean problems that are causing the surface of the track to rupture and the take-off apron of the high jump to tilt uphill.
Watson said the new design will not only bring the track up to safety standards, but turn it into a state-of-the-art facility capable of hosting large meets that would “make Brunswick a destination.”
“We can make an economic engine based on sports,” he said, citing the amount of revenue large, multi-day sporting events bring to a small town in the form of hotel stays, gasoline purchases, and restaurant visits.
From that perspective, the new track design is more than an investment in a track: it’s an investment in the future of other sports facilities, as the foundation planned for the track excavation will lay the foundation for possible synthetic soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, and football fields, which require special subterranean anchors.
“How do you make Brunswick a destination point? This is one way,” Watson said.
He also said that while he has no role in deciding on how the track is funded, he will certainly help raise funds for the cost.
Meanwhile, the School Department has not yet asked the Town Council about funding the track through the town’s capital improvement program, even though the project was designated in the current plan’s outline, town financial director Julia Hentz said last Friday. The Town Council decides on a case-by-case basis whether a project will receive funding or not.
For the time being, Perzanoski said the track is OK for practice, but unfit for competition. Last year, the school reduced the number of competitions on the track to a single meet.
It was clear then that the track ought to be replaced, but Singer mentioned at the Aug. 8 meeting that the board thought it was unfair to propose a new track when there are still kids attending classes in portable classrooms.
Weeds sprout on the track at Brunswick High School.
Edited 9/12 to correct a misspelling of Sarah Singer’s name.