Track surface has run its course

If Wilton High hosts an outdoor track and field meet this season, it will have to be small so coaches can pick the lanes runners can use. — Jeannette Ross photo
If Wilton High hosts an outdoor track and field meet this season, it will have to be small so coaches can pick the lanes runners can use. — Jeannette Ross photo

Someone wearing sneakers, walking or running on the 400-meter track at Wilton High School, may not notice or be bothered by the many cracks and gouges that have emerged over the years. But for someone wearing running shoes with spikes, those cracks, gouges, and even depressions could result in injury.

That’s why a group of people, including the Wilton Running Club and Wilton Track Association, are working to raise $500,000 toward a $1.1-million track replacement project. They are hoping the town will pick up the rest of the tab.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice told The Bulletin that $80,000 for track resurfacing had been carried in the five-year bonded capital plan scheduled to be proposed for fiscal year 2019. “Like turf, a resurface has a 10-year life and would be bonded over 10 years,” she said.

She acknowledged that Kevin Foley, founder of the running club, and Beverly Herman, a Back the Track supporter, met with Parks and Recreation director Steve Pierce, Parks and Recreation Commission Chair Peter Connelly, and herself to discuss a complete rebuild of the track.

“They proposed to fundraise the cost and hoped the town would contribute an amount in excess of the $80,000 in the plan,” she said. “I suggested before they bring any proposal to the Board of Selectmen, they should have raised at least $500,000 to demonstrate interest and support.

Gouges like this pop up all around the Wilton High School track. — Jeannette Ross photo
Gouges like this pop up all around the Wilton High School track. — Jeannette Ross photo

“We have pushed consideration of the track out to FY 2020 in the plan to allow Kevin and his group to fundraise. At the same time, Steve Pierce and the commission continue to further investigate options and perform necessary annual maintenance.”

Wilton High School athletic director Chris McDougall said the track is “deteriorating at a rapid pace” and he is working with Parks and Recreation to get it patched enough to host one or two small home meets. They would have to be small, he said, so coaches could pick the lanes runners would use.

Foley said that when the track was resurfaced in 2007, the lowest-cost materials were used and they were not properly installed. As a result, moisture does not drain properly, causing freezing and thawing of the asphalt substructure, and the track’s thin rubber surface has started to peel away.

“We had a consultant come up,” Foley said, and after boring into the subsurface it was found “the subsurface is past its useful life. We are in a situation where even if we wanted to just resurface the track, the subsurface would not hold it.”

Parks and Recreation Director Steve Pierce said the town will send the core sample information to a geotech engineer to look at the subsurface condition and advise the town on what needs to be done or not done.

The last time the paving that supports the track was redone was in the mid-80s, Pierce said. In the meantime, Pierce has been in touch the track manufacturer and it will come out and patch the track until it is either repaired or replaced.

Back the Track

Rather than spend money on a job that would last only a few years, the running club and track association, both nonprofits, formed the nonprofit Back the Track (backthetrack.org) to raise money. The track association is the booster club for school track and field sports.

They consulted with the Paige Design Group of North Carolina, headed by former world champion runner Don Paige, which has designed tracks for a number of universities across the country. They hope to install what is known as a full-pour system that is non-porous and made of recycled, sustainable material. According to Foley, it has an eco-friendly rating.

“This is 10 times greener, 10 times the quality of what’s there today,” he said.

The advantages, he added, are a longer useful life of 25 to 30 years, compared to 18 to 20 years for other options, and less maintenance. Such a track would not need to be resurfaced for 18 to 20 years, compared to 10 to 12 years for lesser-quality surfaces. It also withstands New England weather well.

“The total useful-life cost is lower,” he said.

According to Foley, the track is probably the most-used town-owned recreational facility. About 380 people were counted using the track on an October day that included people of all ages.

That does not include a track event, and there may not be many of those in the near future.

Problems

“I won’t let my kids go past the finish line,” Foley said of the youngsters in his running club. “A significant part of the track is peeled off.” After trucks were driven over it to install the turf football field, some of the areas of asphalt have caved in and created a “mogul effect” past the finish line.

The league the Wilton Running Club belongs to requires one home meet every year.

“I’m not scheduling one,” Foley said. “I don’t want the responsibility. … I don’t want kids running through moguls after the 100-yard dash.”

The cracks are also a problem. Runners wear shoes with quarter-inch pyramid spikes. “If you push off a crack and your shoe doesn’t come off, you would be in dire straits,” he said.

McDougall agreed the problems are mounting and said if the track is in the same condition next school year, Wilton will have to have all its meets away. Although the school has a 150-meter indoor track, it is not allowed to use it during the outdoor season, which began March 19. About 100 students participate in outdoor track and field.

The D-zones, where field events are held, are also a problem. “Where we set up the high jump, it needs to be flatter. One of the long jump pits is on an angle the way it’s set up.” He was asked if that is bad. “Oh, yes,” he said.

To date, Back the Track has raised about $20,000 from individuals, with grants from foundations expected. The organization plans to reach out to possible business and corporate donors.

At backthetrack.org, there is a picture story and video that shows the seriousness of the situation. There is also a page for online donations.

“My bottom line is we need to make the right decision. This is not the time to pinch pennies and do something less effective in the long run,” Foley said.

“Our objective is to raise the funds and give them to the town. The town would have to accept them and agree to move forward.”

“We could use whatever support is out there,” McDougall said. “It’s one of our most popular sports, and I would hate for the kids not to have a home meet because of the condition of the track.”

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