The Van Buren School District celebrated many positives during the 2018-19 and one of the biggest was the completion of the high school track renovation project.

The renovations included installation of a new track, scoreboard and front entry gate. A new building was also constructed at the gate that houses a bigger concession stand, another room for storage and space for restrooms. The new space allowed the district to convert the old concession stand and restrooms (located under the press box) into more storage space for track and field equipment.

The finished project is something the district, its patrons and the city of Van Buren can be proud to have for many reasons.

“As a school district, we understand the role that we have to be a good partner with our community,” said Van Buren School District Superintendent Dr. Harold Jeffcoat. “Anytime we have an opportunity to increase some economic movement in our community we want to do that, so we do put in a lot of requests (with state and conference officials) to host events. When we have all those families come here they’re going to eat here and relax here, and if we have an overnight tournament they’re going to stay here. We understand that we have an opportunity to drive some of the economic development in our area and we try to do that.”

One tract meet held last spring at the new facility generated a total gate of $1,700. And that doesn’t count dollars spent on gas or meals in town by visitors the day of the event.

“It’s a driving force,” said Jeffcoat. “Of course we always complain about traffic, but we love it when we get to bring a lot of traffic to the community.”

He added, “It gives us an opportunity to showcase the great things that we have in our community and also be that boost for our local businesses.”

The project cost approximately $2.2 million, with the biggest expense being a complete update of the drainage system under the track.

“We had a lot of drainage issues,” said Jeffcoat. “Much of the cost was put into the excavation and replacement of the old drainage system. We put a brand new drainage system in and we tried to do it in a way that it would last for many, many years so that when we have to replace that track surface the overall cost will be significantly less. We were trying to plan long term to invest the tax payers’ dollars as wisely as we could.”

When asked the projected life expectancy of the track, Jeffcoat said, “I don’t think there’s a clear number, but I would say most tracks are going to last anywhere from 12-15 years. that’s probably average. But the surface we went with is actually a non-porous surface so water can’t penetrate it, and that’s a good thing because the problem with our last track was water could penetrate and get underneath the track surface, then when it would freeze it would cause some separation of our track and that caused a lot of problems for us. We were unable to host a track meet here for several years because of how much the track had deteriorated over time.”

The concession stand and entry gate area is an addition to the project that actually saved the district some money since most of the work was done by district staff members.

“It was actually included in the original scope of work for all bids that we received,” said Jeffcoat. “And when we saw the overall cost we decided to make some adjustments in different areas of the total project, and one of those was to self perform the concession stand and ticket gate area and the fencing, that grand entrance that you see in the front, and we managed all of that. Some of the work was done by our people in house. We have a licensed contractor, a licensed electrician and a licensed HVAC technician on staff who work for our district full-time and they have a lot of experience in those areas. So we self-performed a lot of that work ourselves, but then we also outsourced a lot of the work as well. But we managed the total project.”

The building is an important part of the entire project, not only from a cost-saving perspective, but also from the point of spectator convenience.

“I’m just happy that we’re able to make that addition to the overall facility,” Jeffcoat said. “We have felt like it was something that was needed for quite some time. We currently have a concession stand at the pressbox area, but it’s really tiny. And there are men’s and women’s restrooms, but those are also really small in scale. And when you look at the number of people that we bring into a track meet, especially the conference track meet, we felt like this was needed. We’re glad we were able to add that to the overall project. It’s a really nice addition.”

He added, “I would have to look to see the amount of money we saved by doing that (on our own), but I do know it was a significant savings for us to manage those aspects.”

Even though the students of the district will be spending the most time on the track, Jeffcoat wants the public to know the district is comfortable with the idea that this new facility is something for the entire community to enjoy.

“We’ve been asked if it was going to be open to the public a lot,” he said. “In fact, when the track was under construction we had a lot of citizens that were concerned that we wouldn’t allow public use and that’s never been part of the conversation from the school district’s perspective. We have always had the idea that taxpayer dollars built this place and so it was important for our taxpayers, our citizens, to have an opportunity to enjoy the facility.”

But because the facility is located on school property there are guidelines that are in place.

“We do have some limitations for its use and all of those are related to safety for our students,” he said. “During school hours the track will be closed. We have a lot of practices and events that go on at our track and we have to go through an extensive background check with all of the employees and people that work with our students in the district and we really have no control over background checks when it comes to visitors who come to campus. We usually don’t know who they are, so we have to restrict the facility’s use during the school day and also during any district sponsored events that we host.”

When school starts there may be times when students are using the track the entire day.

“We do want the public to use the track, but we also want them to use a lot of the sidewalks that we have, that we’ve built over the last few years through joint use agreement grants that we’ve gotten in partnership with our county and state and our city,” Jeffcoat said. “Those have allowed us to put nice walking tracks at most of our schools.”

One such city project is underway near the track where sidewalks are being built on the north side of Pointer Trail. When finished, a continues sidewalk network will be in place from the track to the corner of Pointer Trail and Hwy. 59 at Braum’s Restaurant.