Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 6:08 PM on Wednesday, August 24, 2011

School officials study options for Homer's track

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer

It's been two years since Dr. Allan Gee, Homer High School principal, halted events involving other schools on the Homer High track, citing unsafe conditions. Depending on what weather does during the school year and whether funding is found to make the necessary repairs, Gee also may closed the track to HHS students.

"What we've got to look at is whether or not, after the winter season erosion that takes place and break-up during spring, this track is safe for athletes," Gee told the Homer News recently.

Dr. Steve Atwater, superintendent for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, said even if the state's capital budget next year includes funding for a new track, estimated to cost $750,000, it might not be soon enough for construction to be completed by next school year.

"The money would not be appropriated until late spring and nothing would happen until the governor signs off, so it could be as late as July," said Atwater.

The track was constructed by the district in 1985, the same time the school was built. Wear and tear over the past 26 years, plus flooding in 2002 caused damage to the substrate. The track's surface is uneven, cracked and pitted, with grass sprouting through.

"It's really unfortunate for the kids, for the community and a sad statement on the neglect of the borough," said Bill Steyer, who coaches the school's track and field program and the cross country running program.

Amber Cabana, whose daughter participates in track and field, was surprised to discover events were not held in Homer.

"I didn't understand what shape the track was in and I was devastated to learn we couldn't have home meets because the track is basically condemned. It's not safe for people to run on. That was just a real eye-opener for me," said Cabana.

Resurfacing, repairs and replacement of tracks in the school district were included on the district's six-year capital improvement and major maintenance project lists in 2009, 2010 and 2011. In 2011, repair of the HHS track, as well as those at Homer Middle School, Kenai Central High School and Soldotna High School ranked third on the district's legislative priority list, but did not receive funding. Bill Spence, KPBSD maintenance director, has characterized the HHS track as the most deteriorated and said a new track is what's needed.

At recent HHS football game and this month's Breast Cancer Run, Steyer and others circulated information on the track and gathered signatures for a letter to Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, requesting state funding to renovate the track.

Tracks are considered "a bit of a luxury in some respect," said Atwater. "The priority is buildings that kids go to every day. (A track) is important, but not more important than replacing windows in the school."

Liz Downing, who represents Homer on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board, said the push for track funding needs to be made at the legislative level. Of the growing local support, Downing said, "Hopefully the momentum will continue. I want to make sure folks are aware of the situation and be ready to jump in, talking to the right people at the right time."

Opportunities to do that may happen next month when the school board meets in Homer Sept. 12 and the borough assembly comes to town Sept. 20.

Bill Smith, who represents Homer on the assembly, said deterioration of the tracks, including Homer High's, also raises a larger issue: the relationship between the borough, which manages the facility in terms of maintenance, and the school district.

"How do we maintain all of our facilities to a standard because you're going to have ongoing issues and we can't always depend on the state to have the money for," said Smith.

Steyer also has requested approval to give a 10-minute presentation to the borough assembly when it meets in Soldotna Oct. 11.