WESTPORT, Conn. – Citing potential risk to student athletes, Westport Superintendent Elliott Landon and the Board of Education are seeking $300,000 to resurface the track at Staples High School. The proposal, however, hit some speed bumps at Wednesday night’s Board of Finance meeting.
Don Bergmann, a member of the Representative Town Meeting — the town’s legislative body, spoke against the proposal and questioned whether the track poses as much of a safety risk as education officials say.
“Ultimately, what I think is going on here is that this process of deciding to resurface the track is being rushed because of the lighting that’s going to be installed” on the Staples field, Bergmann said.
Although Landon said the planned installation of field lights makes the proposal appropriate, he said resurfacing the track has been on the district’s capital forecast for the last four years. It has been in “serious need of repair all that time,” he said.
Last month, the Board of Education approved the proposal. Chairman Don O’Day said members agreed that resurfacing the track after the permanent field lights are installed made sense. The heavy machinery needed to install the lights will further damage the already inadequate track, he said.
Staples Athletic Director Marty Lisevick told the finance board that the track, which was installed in 1998, has been patched hundreds of times. As a result, the surface is uneven and inconsistent. This, he said, poses a risk to the students jumping over hurdles and making turns at high speeds.
“Is it OK for someone to go out there and jog around the track? Absolutely,” Lisevick said. “Is there a major concern for my high school team? No question.”
Lisevick also said he has major concerns with the pole vault and discus areas, the latter of which he said is not adequate for state or Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference championships.
Girls track and field Coach Jesse McCray agreed, saying the uneven surfaces, bubbles and sinkholes increase the risk of leg and ankle injuries.
The track's material was designed for indoor use, or for outdoor use in areas that have a consistent climate, said Nancy Harris, assistant superintendent for business. Similar tracks, she added, have an average life of about 10 years.
Despite the arguments made over the safety, Bergmann said he believes the project can wait another year.
“When you hear someone say there’s a safety issue, I just don’t think you have to buy it right away,” he told the finance board.
In response, Chairman Avi Kaner said the Board of Finance would never vote against safety.
Although the board did not take any action, the consensus among members was that the safety concerns can't be ignored. The board requested to see the track firsthand before it makes a decision.