The quality of the track programs at both Northwestern and Rock Hill high schools are worth sustaining. But that will be hard to do if neither school has a track suitable for competitions with other schools.
The tracks at the schools have been deteriorating for some time. The base and surfacing of both tracks have buckled and split, making them dangerous to run on.
Rock Hill quit holding home meets last year, and this year the school's track has been deemed too dangerous even for practice. Runners at Northwestern say they are afraid to run at their peak during practice for fear that they will trip over rough spots in the track.
It is surprising that both these tracks have become unusable at the same time. The deterioration of the tracks no doubt was foreseeable, so we wonder why the district had no set plan to replace at least one of them before it became too dangerous for runners.
This also is likely to reignite the debate over the decision to spend $700,000 on artificial turf for the District 3 football stadium. That would have covered most of the estimated $750,000 cost of demolishing and replacing one of the tracks.
School board members will have to make the tough decision about spending $1.5 million for two new tracks. Board Chairman Bob Norwood said that leftover bond money earmarked for such projects might be available.
Board member Jim Vining said the board is waiting for "a prioritized list of projects" from district officials. But he also notes that now might be a good time to go forward with building the new tracks because, with the economic slowdown, contractors hungry for work might negotiate a more favorable deal.
Vining makes a good point. The district, we think, is obligated to build at least one new track, and if the money is available, now is a good time to take advantage of a slow time for contractors. This would have the added attraction of using local businesses and providing local jobs.
In the meantime, perhaps the district could schedule some local meets for Rock Hill and Northwestern at South Pointe's track. Or the district might arrange for high school athletes to use Winthrop University's track, which will be vacant while Winthrop's track program is in its indoor season.
While the district has yet to designate new tracks as a priority, we think track is an essential component to any high school athletic program. Track can provide an opportunity for dozens of students to compete. And, compared to football programs, which have high equipment costs, track is a bargain.
It is sad that two local high school teams won't be able to compete at home this season. We hope that situation is changed by next year.
It's a shame that both Northwestern and Rock Hill high school tracks are virtually unusable.
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