Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:54 PM on Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Officials: Community support key to new track

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

Runners, coaches and community members concerned about the sad state of the Homer High School track met Tuesday to hear school district officials discuss what has been done and what can be done to secure a new running area, a project estimated to cost $750,000.

"I see track venues around the state and get frustrated when I see our venue," said Bill Steyer, who coaches track and field, as well as cross country, for the school. "I know district officials have been making every effort to do what they can to get tracks for the borough and Homer elevated to where they can get renovated, but it's just not happening. That's the impetus for this meeting, to try to get a voice so we could talk to the appropriate elected officials, the people that are making things happen."

Resurfacing, repairs and replacement of tracks at Kenai Peninsula Borough School District facilities have been on the 2009, 2010 and 2011 six-year capital improvement and major maintenance project lists. This year, repair of the tracks at Homer High School, Homer Middle School, Kenai Central High School and Soldotna High School were ranked third on the school district's legislative priority list.

The only items coming ahead of track work were roof repairs, which, if left unattended,

"have the potential for closing schools," said Dave Spence, KPBSD director of maintenance and operations, and window insulation, work Spence described as "pretty critical." However, while the state's capital budget provided funding for projects of other school district, KPBSD was not so fortunate.

"There are a lot of other schools that have been successful this year in getting some funding for either turf fields or tracks and I feel it's our turn," said Steyer. "From a fairness standpoint, hands down, Homer track has been waiting a long time and we're next. I don't think we can be passive and assume it's going to happen."

The HHS track was built in 1985, the same year as the school, and was damaged by flooding in 2002. In 2009, Dr. Alan Gee, HHS principal, and the school's athletic director at the time determined the deterioration of the track made it too dangerous for events. Cracks, holes and grass growing through what was once a rubberized surface have made it unsafe, according to Gee. As a result, high school athletes must travel to other schools to participate in track and field events.

Training is still conducted on the track. Other users include cheerleaders who use it for conditioning; Relay For Life, a 21-hour event that has been held in Homer for three years and benefits the American Cancer Society; a community track program; and "countless individuals and children who use that track as a safe haven for periodic exercise. It's a world-class venue," said Steyer.

The importance of making the Homer track a priority separate from those at other schools was discussed at Tuesday's meeting. While combining them offered an economy of scale, it also created a "big ticket capital project," said Dr. Steve Atwater, KPBSD superintendent, of reaction from state lawmakers. "What we understand is that items we were trying to get were too large. So, the strategy we'll take is to support it separately. What Sen. (Gary) Stevens and Rep. (Paul) Seaton need to hear from everybody is that is Homer's number one priority. That's the route to go."

Asked about combining the track with upgrades needed for the school's soccer and football fields, Spence said combining them into one package would "complicate" the matter and "lessen the likelihood" of obtaining funding.

Liz Downing, who represents Homer on the KPBSD board, asked about the possibility of looking for grants from private entities or organizations.

"Sure," said Atwater. "There's a turf field in Barrow a lady in Florida paid for. You can go that route."

Going to borough voters for approval of a bond to fund a new track also is an option. However, a bond for roof repairs across the peninsula was just approved by voters in 2010 and Atwater said a cushion of time was needed before trying that approach again.

Gaining enough support to make the track a local priority is the first step in getting the attention of legislators, said Atwater.

"Homer can't have 14 things it wants to do at once," said Atwater. "Does it want the track? ... That's the conversation that has to happen this fall. Can you rally people to support the track? That's what legislators will listen to, more than just the user group."

A committee, co-chaired by Steyer and HHS assistant cross country coach Saundra Hudson is being formed to contact elected officials and urge funding for a new track.

"We need to be a squeaky wheel. That's what we need to do," said Steyer. "What I'd like to do is get folks individually to contact our officials, let them know this track means a lot."

For more information, call Steyer at 399-1078 or Hudson at 235-2894.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.