For over 20 years, Richmond County students haven’t had the opportunity to practice on a finished track at home or to host a track meet. That’ll start to change in 2021.
RCPS superintendent Dr. Greg Smith said students will be practicing on a newly constructed track this spring, and they’ll likely host their first track meet in the spring of 2022.
As of December, the school system’s new track was over 90 percent complete; once the winter weather breaks, a red synthetic surface will be added making it better to run on, improving its look and extending its lifespan.
“This is the last piece of the original renovation plan outlined over a decade ago when RCPS decided to launch its major renovation project,” said Smith. Back then, by the time the county finished the work on the schools, there wasn’t money left for the track.
“There was a significant need for this track,” said Smith. And he doesn’t have any qualms about investing about $500,000 in the project.
“The school board has long had a vision for Richmond County to be as good or better than any school system in Virginia. To accomplish that, students need to be able to participate in any athletic activity they choose,” he explained.
“In today’s school world, in the expectations of school divisions, having a track is a basic expectation. The children of Richmond County shouldn’t have any less than any other students in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Smith added.
Not only was the previous track a subpar cinder surface, but it was “always imperfect” because the scoreboard end was about two-and-half feet higher than the ticket booth end. Balancing the terrain was one of the major efforts undertaken with the current project, and it required a substantial amount of work and earth-moving.
It was also “a very costly expenditure,” said Smith.
But because RCPS has “exercised good stewardarship of its funding,” it’s able to cover about 80 percent of the cost for the project, which will be completed without any debt. A large portion of the money is coming from the Capital Improvement Program, which is funded by money left over from the school system’s budget each year, and RCPS used special education reimbursements from the Department of Education.
The remaining 20 percent was largely covered by generous community members.
“The school board reached out and the community came out and really did a wonderful job to support this project and help make it possible,” said Smith.
Not only is the school board proud that the bulk of the work went to local companies thereby supporting the local economy, but it’s also excited to offer the new track as a community asset.
It has always been the intention of the school board to share this track with the community, which is why the project included adding a security system, lighting and pedestrian gate to accommodate use outside of school hours.
RCPS envisions people using the track to walk, run and gather. This will be a space where children can come with their families to learn to ride a bike. “We want to help the community be healthier and give them something else within their school system to be proud of and that they can share,” said Smith.
RCPS also hopes track will become a more popular sporting option.
During sign-ups in the spring of 2020, RCPS was slated to have 30 participants in the track program, which would have been one of the largest track teams the school system has had and the most students participating in any spring sport.
“We are excited and hoping that the new track will attract even more students to the track program,” said Smith.