Track and field.

It has a nice ring, doesn’t it? I f you’re looking to increase the value of a sports field facility, adding a running track is probably one of the best ways to go about it.

Properly designed and constructed, a track will increase the use of your facility, meaning it will create a larger base of stakeholders in the facility. The increased use means you have less chance of vandalism and trouble. It can also act as a magnet for your facility to host more high-profile events, such as local, state or regional championships – something that never hurts the visibility of the school.

Sounds like a win/win situation, doesn’t it? But the decision of whether to add a track is far from a no-brainer.

Like all sports facilities, it requires the precision of an experienced professional in order to create a facility that is competition-worthy. It necessitates a sizeable investment in order to produce something of good quality. It can mean your field is temporarily off-limits while construction is going on. In short, even though there is a positive result at the end, it’s not a decision to be taken lightly.

We’re not here to teach you how to build a track or how to add a track to an existing field; rather, the purpose of this article is to help you evaluate the need for an additional sports facility and then provide instruction on how to proceed.

The following questions and considerations aren’t meant to be negative, nor are they track-specific. They should be asked when any new athletic facility is considered, from a swimming pool to a sand volleyball court, from a basketball hoop to a baseball diamond – and anything in between. A full inventory of needs, users, resources and more always should be taken prior to embarking on any project.

Many questions must be asked before the installation of a track.

Evaluate the need

A track can enhance a facility; however, it is imperative to evaluate whether it’s necessary to the institution/owner. Do you need a track, or is a track just a nice idea? It’s essential to hold a meeting with all relevant parties and to ask the following questions:

Does the school currently have, or plan to have, any track sports?

Have students indicated interest in forming in a track team? If so, how many? How many of them will be in school when the track is completed?

Has there been any attrition, to other schools or programs, by students who feel the need to go elsewhere because you lack a track facility?

If a track is to be built, where will field events be located? If the field is to be used for field sports such as football or soccer, it may be necessary to locate events outside the confines of the existing facility. In addition, some throw events, such as javelin, are not suitable for use in the same location as an artificial turf field. If field events (some or all) will be located outside the original facility, take into consideration ancillary factors such as spectator seating, parking, accessibility and more. Field events shouldn’t be an afterthought.

What is the track and field competition demographic in your area? Are there other nearby schools with competitive teams?

Is there interest in both varsity and recreational use for a track facility? In other words, are there community members who would like to run or walk on the track at times when students wouldn’t be using it? Are there any recreational or club teams that would use it?

Are there track facilities elsewhere in the community that are getting use, negating your need for a track? While having a track on the premises might be an enticing prospect, it’s essential to consider whether a nearby facility can absorb the use instead – and save you from an added expense – at least for now.

The very best people to evaluate the need are, well, everyone. Focus groups comprised of administrators, student athletes, community members and others should be present when these questions are asked.

In some cases, it may be necessary to poll potential users to determine interest level in various activities, hours of intended use, special needs and more. The more background you have from your stakeholders, the better picture you have of your user base, and the better equipped you are to make the appropriate decisions.

A track is a significant investment, and its cost increases depending if the level of competition will be higher.

Assess your resources

A new facility is a great boost to an institution. However, its presence will require you as a facility manager – and the institution or owner as a whole – to channel specific resources. Think about:

Budget: For feasibility studies, permitting, design and construction. A track is a significant investment, and its cost increases depending if the level of competition will be higher.

Budget and time for maintenance: Tracks aren’t self-maintaining. Depending upon the type of surface you select, the weather in your area, the amount of use the track gets and how well maintained it is (as well as how well rules are enforced concerning proper footwear and so forth), surface care needs can vary. Damage to the track caused by improper use can necessitate professional repairs.

Personnel: For matters of upkeep, coaching and other support.

Programming: Who will be in charge of determining which users have priority at which times?

Track clearances

Because fields for different sports, and even among the same sports played at different levels (men’s college lacrosse versus boys’ high school lacrosse, etc.) have different dimensions, a field that hosts multiple sports requires careful planning with regard to track design and placement. The track may need to be configured differently or set back farther from the edge of the field. A wider field with a track around it will mean spectator seating is moved back. A design professional who specializes in sports facilities will take this into consideration.

Consider the infrastructure

With construction of a track will come new concerns regarding drainage. Water should never be sprayed onto the track by sprinklers intended to irrigate or cool the field, and water (whether from rain or sprinkler systems) should never drain across the track. A professional who specializes in sports facility design should help the owner come up with plans for proper water management.

Increased users will mean additional parking for athletes, buses, parents and more, so consideration should be given to deciding whether current facilities are sufficient. Remember that ADA considerations will apply. In addition, be sure to evaluate equipment storage areas, rest rooms, concessions and more.

A track can create a great adjunct facility for athletes in other sports to use for cross-training.

Downtime

It goes without saying that construction work on your field makes it off-limits to all users temporarily. Yes, that means all users: the teams, the bands and parents who just want their kids to run around and blow off steam. Make sure to post signage well in advance and to discuss with all user groups the fact that the field will be closed, period. If alternate facilities are available, try to get the word out about those – as well as any information about schedules for those facilities.

Depending upon the geographic location of your field, construction season may be limited. Summer is generally peak time for sports facility construction since most students are out of school and fields aren’t in use. However, be aware that weather, site problems and other issues can cause delays. If your goal is to have the field open again in time for the home football opener, make sure your contractor is aware of it – and make plans for a back-up site, just in case.

If you’re still wavering on the starting blocks, remember this: Properly designed and built, a track can add immensely to your facility. It can bring in new users and new energy to a school. It can create a great adjunct facility for athletes in other sports to use for cross-training. It can also bring great publicity to the owner or institution and raise the profile of the facility immensely.

The most important thing is to make an informed decision. Once you do that, you’re off and running.

Maybe while you’re at it, you should upgrade your scoreboard too.

Photos by Fisher Tracks, Medallion Athletic Products, Cape & Island Tennis and Track and Robert Cohen, Co.