Very rarely do I go a day without visiting with someone, internally or externally, about the condition of our running track on the Houston campus. As most are aware, the track is long overdue for a major renovation. Here is what I know about the track and a few important variables for consideration:
Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Grant
The LWCF Grant is a 50-50 matching grant program which is federally funded through revenue from offshore oil and gas drilling. The maximum amount that can be requested and awarded per project is $500,000. The district applied for this grant in 2021 and was awarded the grant for a 6-lane track. Following the award, the district declined the grant as it was the consensus of the Board of Education to re-apply for an 8-lane track. The district went back to the grant process during the 2022 and 2023 grant cycles and was not successful. Currently, we are working through the grant process again with the following timelines: Applications are due Nov. 17, 2023; Selected applicants at the state level will be notified between April-May 2024; Final federal applications are due between June-December 2024; If awarded at the federal level, notification of award and project agreement would be released some time between January-September 2025. While these timelines don’t lend themselves to a quick solution, it is one option. It is also important to remember that this grant does not cover the entire cost of a track installation. In fact, this amount would be close to only a quarter of the cost.
Fitting the Square in a Round Hole
As we have been engaged in this work for several years now, the footprint of the current track has been a concern for every vendor that we have had on site. As our desire is to have an 8-lane track in the space, the question becomes, can we fit a regulation track in this space. Up to this point, we have seen several renderings that show that it could happen. These renderings have only been provided through the use of aerial imaging. To accommodate the space, some of the renderings start to take on a square shape vs. an oval shape. Most recently, we have engaged with Byrne & Jones to conduct a topographic survey to assess the space and surrounding grades. This information will give us an indication on the many variables and questions about fitting a regulation track in this space. To name a few:
- Will we have to move the track and football field south (into Hill Street)? If this is the case, major utility work would have to be done as the major sewer line runs down the center of Hill Street (the one-way). Overhead utilities would also need to be taken into consideration.
- Will we need to have a wall/barrier engineered on the east side (large ravine) to support potential expansion? Or, what erosion control measures will need to be in place to maintain the appropriate grade of the hillside?
- If the track has to be moved southward and/or eastward, what costs are incurred by also having to move the football field and re-crown (slope the field for proper water run-off) the field?
- If the track is moved southward, how far will that put the track out of center from the current stadium and press box?
Outside of the Box
With the many variables that need to be considered for the current location and associated costs, is it appropriate to be thinking about an alternative location for the track (separate from the football field)? Over the next few months, this is likely to be a conversation piece. According to one of the vendors that have been on site, 5-8 flat acres would be most optimal for the placement of a new track.
Artificial Turf vs. Natural Grass Infield
As I mentioned above, a day rarely goes by without the mention of the track. Similarly, the conversation about the replacement of our grass infield with an artificial turf field is just as frequent. This decision has not been made at this time; however, consideration (cost and functionality) is being given to both options. If you have thoughts you would like to share on this, please fill out the survey below and let us know.
Other Cost Considerations
As we continue to engage in the planning process, here are a few additional cost considerations:
- Equipment to outfit a new track (i.e. hurdles, running blocks, etc.) must be considered for functionality.
- New lights to outfit both the track and football field will be needed.
- Drainage solutions for the interior and exterior of the track area must be a major consideration as the water run-off from the Big Red hillside is significant.
- If the track remains in its current location, retaining walls are likely to be needed on both north and south ends of the track.
- For the hosting of track and field meets, it is important that consideration be given to the inclusion and location of all field events (long jump, triple jump, high jump, pole vault, javelin, shot put and discus throw).
Moving Forward and Feedback
As you can see, there are many variables for consideration. The staff, the facilities (internal and external stakeholders) committee, and the Board of Education will continue to navigate through this process to make the best decision for the students of the Houston R-I District. If you would like to provide feedback on any of the above mentioned items or if you are interested in discussing possible future sponsorship opportunities for this project, please fill out the survey and let us know.