The Charlottesville High School track and field team has not hosted a home event in six years. The athletes have had no home-field advantage, no senior night and no venue for friends and family to cheer them on on their own turf.
While the school’s shot-putters, runners and long jumpers have enjoyed successful seasons in that time, the outdoor track at CHS has languished, with too few lanes to host a full meet and in need of repair.
“It’s somewhat disheartening, every other school has home events. The standard is, if you have a basketball game, half your games are at home,” said Larry Mangino, CHS athletic director. “Your parents get to see you play, your friends get to see you play … And they don’t get that.”
As another season of away-only meets looms, the school division has asked for $650,000 from the city’s Capital Improvement Plan this year in the hopes of giving the team its own venue.
That money would not pay for the entire project, officials said. Cost estimates range from $859,000 to renovate the existing six-lane track to $1.6 million to rebuild the track around the field at the school’s stadium.
The cost estimates were generated in a report produced by civil engineering firm Timmons Group, which was shared with the School Board earlier this month.
Before the school sports a full eight-lane track with adequate bleachers, restroom facilities and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant parking, the division faces tough choices about where to place a new track, what to do about the school’s aging field house and how to pay for the project.
Planning is still in the early stages, and designs and final track location have not been determined, said division Assistant Superintendent Ed Gillaspie.
“It’s not really clear yet. We really came from the point of view, at least to this point, to make sure we knew what the best option for the project was and go from there,” he said. “At this point, we would like to get city councilors and School Board members out there to show everyone what we are working with.”
Renovating the track at its current location would mean adding parking, bathrooms, lights and bleachers, as well as closing the facility for public use permanently, said city project manager Mike Mollica.
“If we were starting with a blank slate, we would be absolutely placing the track at the stadium, which is where it belongs for a lot of reasons,” he said.
Putting the track around the stadium comes with another set of issues, Mollica said. For one thing, it would require shrinking the stadium’s turf field.
It also would mean tearing down and replacing the stadium’s aging field house at the same time, adding to the cost of the project.
The final option would be to build the track around an existing practice field behind the stadium. That would solve concerns about restrooms and parking, but would interfere with a critical slope, and would lie partly in Albemarle County, which would mean the division would have to secure permits from the county.
School Board Chairwoman Amy Laufer said she would like more information on what needs the track would address and what would become of the existing track, which is widely used by people in the neighborhoods surrounding the school.
“Having a track that is capable of hosting events is something I think we are interested in, and I think we want to find out, for instance, how many track meets we would be hosting … and could we use the space for other things,” she said. “Those are all things we are going to be talking about.”
Board member Jennifer McKeever said she would like more information from staff, as well as input from the community.
“I would love to see some input from the community about the track … because the track is really a community-wide resource,” she said.
The funding needed to complete the track could come from a number of sources, including a possible year-end budget surplus, one-time money or a community fundraising effort, Gillaspie said.
Board members said they support the high school having improved track and field facilities, but want to weigh that against the division’s educational needs.
“I definitely want the track to be fixed, I want us to be able to host track meets,” McKeever said. “I also want a place to house additional preschool classrooms, so these are priorities that we have as a vision, and I would like to see a plan for implementation of those before I support any particular option.”
For Mangino, the priority is to give his athletes a home field they can be proud of.
“Every time I see somebody fighting through a difficult situation, I am certainly going to work that much harder for them to be able to succeed,” he said. “What a difference it would be to go from the orphan we have become to somewhere other schools want to come for regional and state meets.”
The School Board plans to walk the current track at its luncheon with the City Council on Friday.