Levy could decide fate of South Kitsap's ailing track

"A huge blow was dealt to South Kitsap High School when a Seattle-based civil engineering firm deemed the school's 10-year-old running track unsafe for competition.Don Hogan, a civil engineer whose firm developed Safeco Field, made a visit to the track a couple weeks ago and told school officials the track needed to be closed to competition.The SK track and field team has canceled its own invitational, which was scheduled for today, and the Narrows League junior varsity championships have also been canceled.The Wolves also had to cancel their April 20 dual meet with Capital, and will compete with that school in a double dual meet April 27.Facilities and maintenance director Tom O'Brien said the school district knew for some time the track has needed replacement. Before Hogan's analysis, O'Brien said plans were in the works to demolish the track and build a new one this summer.O'Brien said last year's district budget committee allotted money for a new track.The problems with the track are numerous.O'Brien said the track, which has a red rubber latex surface, was installed 10 years ago for roughly $85,000.The cost for a new track will run $200,000 to $300,000, and those are conservative numbers, O'Brien said.Signs have been posted around the track, warning runners to be aware of hazards on the track.All hazardous spots are marked with painted yellow circles.O'Brien said Hogan concluded the track was not built correctly for drainage, causing many spots on the track to form puddles. Water damage has weakened the rubber latex, which has eroded or been torn away over the years.Currently, the high school team, the South Kitsap Jaguars youth track club, and anyone in the community may continue to use the track for non-competitive purposes. But races have been eliminated.You can still jog on it, and if it's a supervised practice, it's okay, O'Brien said. We just don't want the highly intense running you get in competitions.While plans are in the works to purchase a new track, O'Brien said a failure of the school district's maintenance and operations levy could alter the district's plans.Fortunately for the district, there will be no waiting game, because the results of the levy election will be announced Tuesday night.The tricky thing for me is the financing in the event of a levy failure, O'Brien said. If it fails, then we have to think about using the money we have for new roofs for example.O'Brien said he thinks he has enough money for a new track (right now), and said there is no question the facility needs to be fixed.The truth is, the track is never going to be the most important thing, but it needs to be done. he said. Right now, my intention is to do this job. I'm hoping I don't have to make the decision.SK track coach Ed Santos said the track dilemma isn't isolated to his team.This affects the public, junior highs and PE classes, Santos said. You can see people running on it in the mornings and evenings.Santos said the track's condition is shocking.When you go outside and really take a look, you are amazed about how bad of shape it is in, he said.Santos said the levy will probably decide the use of the track by the high school team and others for years to come.Who knows, he said. Worst case scenario, we'd have to train elsewhere and have all away meets.Brian Holt, associate principal who oversees SKHS athletics, said decisions on the track will hinge on the levy.If the levy doesn't pass, I don't think we're going to have anything done with the track, Holt said. I don't see us having it next year.There are no alternative sites in Port Orchard.Cedar Heights is the only junior high in the district with a track, and it is not a high school-level facility.In an Independent story about lack of track facilities last summer, district superintendent Bill Lahmann said the only way the district could pay for new tracks is if the expense is written into the levy. He suggested school student bodies could raise money, like Whitman Junior High did for its $65,000 baseball field.But it could be apples and oranges with tracks, since the cost of a track is almost double the cost of a baseball field.As for raising money privately, O'Brien said,That would be a lot of car washes."

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