Home News and Features High School Track Facilities Upgrade Approved — with Caution

High School Track Facilities Upgrade Approved — with Caution

Man in bright yellow jacket with yellow plants running on red-cinder track with fence in foreground.
Bob Barrett rounds the west end of the red clay Montpelier High School track where it is tight against the recreation path along the Winooski river. Photo by J. Gregory Gerdel.
Assured by Superintendent Libby Bonesteel’s staff that the board’s control over the proposed renovation of the track-and-field facilities at Montpelier High School (MHS) will remain under board control, a motion to commit $1.5 million of a $2.2 million federal grant to the project was approved unanimously by the Montpelier Roxbury Public School board.

Board members noted the strong outpouring of community support that included unusually large attendance at the regular school board meeting on Wednesday evening, April 6. Along with several students and coaches who spoke in support of the track project, former principal and longtime track-and-field coach Charlie Phillips came close to tears when he explained his heartfelt enthusiasm for the project. 

Several board members said that their initial skepticism about the track proposal has been allayed by the thorough analysis presented by the district’s staff, but also because the facilities will support programs that are “inclusive, diverse, and accessible,” as summarized by board member Mia Moore.

Both student representatives, Merrick Modun and Zach Henningsen, who sit on the board (but are not voting members) spoke in support of the project. Also speaking in support of an upgraded facility was Montpelier resident Otis Loga, who attends U-32 high school. Loga has discovered great satisfaction through running despite a physical disability that many would presume excludes running. Noting that an improved track surface, like the one installed at U-32 a few years ago, opens the door to participation by many people who physically cannot access other sports, Loga underscored the potential for the project.

Community Support

Several adults, including current Main Street Middle School track coach Nathan Suter, told of the positive influence participation in track and field had on their own lives growing up. ‘Self-discipline’ was a key word for Suter and again for Cody Steed, the MHS varsity coach, who has 35 students on this year’s team. Main Street Middle School has 78 students participating this spring, “But fortunately all of them don’t show up on the same day,” Suter explained when interviewed following the meeting.

Responding to a suggestion that improvements to the school’s grass playing fields be considered at the same time, facilities manager Andrew LaRosa said that add-on is beyond the scope of the current estimate but could be considered when more specific plans are developed. 

Fitting a new track design into the existing landscape with the proximity of the river and recreation path to the west and the tennis courts to the east imposes some physical constraints. Options include a 400-meter six-lane track or eight-lane track — or a six-lane track with an eight-lane straightway, LaRosa said.

Reviewing the Options 

Business Manager Grant Geisler addressed board concerns about whether the funds could be better spent on other school needs or retiring one of the existing bonds. In the short term, retiring one of the bonds from 2008 would save some interest costs, but with interest rates rising it’s more advantageous to invest the grant money in the track improvements, Geisler said. “If something pops up, you can uncommit to the project and are only obligated to the money that has already been spent so far.”  

Another major project on the horizon is replacing inefficient school windows to improve both heating efficiency and ventilation. “It’s a matter of which funding sources are the best fit,” Geisler explained, noting that the window upgrades remain in the capital plan. “The best use of the fund balance would be for the track.”

The Timeline

Student representative Merrick asked about the timeline and bid process for construction once the final designs are approved. LaRosa indicated that with preparing the final design and going through the bid process, the summer of 2023 will be the soonest construction can get underway. “It’s going to take more than eight weeks to do (construction phase). We’re going to have to have some ‘give and take’ and utilize the Dog River (fields) for soccer or lacrosse,” he said.

In discussing approval of the track upgrade board member Jill Remick reported she has done some research about such developments at other schools. “I do not take this vote lightly. I feel a lot more secure in supporting an improvement to a physical facility knowing the incredible depths investments we have made in student support and staff support and hiring more staff with important, critical behavior expertise.  I have come around to feeling okay to make this level of decision,” she said, adding, “We have done a good job of managing limited resources during a really challenging time.”  

Kristen Getler, who serves on the board as Roxbury’s representative said that it will be important that the district’s transportation planning consider after-school access to the facilities and activities in Montpelier.