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Lexington’s Center Track and Field, the town’s main outdoor facility for casual exercise and organized competition, is getting a makeover. The longstanding project to completely update the track, infield, and surrounding areas are nearing completion, but not without concerns over how some student-athletes will be affected.

The project has been in the works since 2013, Assistant Director of Recreation Peter Coleman said, and was finally approved at the annual town meeting in 2018. On June 4, construction began on a new track and synthetic turf infield, and Coleman estimates that “substantial completion” of the project will be achieved by Nov. 8, if weather permits. Some additional landscaping will be completed in the early spring, and the department fully anticipates having the track and field ready by the time the Spring track and field season kicks off March 2020, he said.

The Center Track and Field is heavily used by Lexington students, organized youth sports, and private community members. The previous track was laid in 2000, Coleman said. It was resurfaced multiple times, most recently in 2012. But outdoor tracks typically only have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years, and can only be resurfaced so many times without conditions deteriorating.

"The old track was dangerous, it was well past its useful life, it was not up to safety codes or competition codes in many cases. I think it's a very good thing this was prioritized, it's something that needed to be addressed immediately and not put on the back burner," said Steve McKenna, a town meeting member and assistant coach for Lexington High School’s indoor and outdoor track and field teams.

The old track had worn down in many places, McKenna said, sometimes resulting in holes and other safety issues. In one location, a tree root had grown under the track’s surface, raising a large area that McKenna said could easily result in a rolled ankle or worse for an athlete.

The infield, which used to be natural grass, will now be replaced with synthetic turf. While this material has its benefits, it was also a point of contention during the planning process.

"The one thing that the track program and the kids are really concerned about is the turf infield," McKenna said.

LHS athletes will not be able to practice the hammer throw on the new turf, McKenna said. This is because the hammers, which weigh twelve pounds and travel at high speeds, would literally melt the turf, causing holes and extensive damage. While the hammer throw is not sanctioned at official high school competitions in Massachusetts, it is a staple of college meets. According to McKenna, Lexington has a number of talented hammer throwers, including some recognized as nationally elite. The team, which plead their case against synthetic turf unsuccessfully at the most recent town meeting, is concerned that a lack of practice space could lead to a loss of college scholarship opportunities.

After money for the project was initially appropriated, McKenna said the team was assured that a separate throwing area would be built nearby, which would accommodate the hammer throw.

"At this point, I believe it's just on the recreation committee to follow through on the commitment that they made to the community and to the track program that they're going to put up the money to build this facility. And the only way that can be done is by a vote," he said.

In the meantime, the turf infield will be used for discus and javelin events, and a nearby area will be used for shotput, Coleman said.

However, synthetic turf does present some benefits to the alternative, which would have been a hybrid grass field with natural and artificial elements. A fully synthetic field is more durable, Coleman said, and allows the town to get more use out of it before upkeep is needed. A full-turf field is also better equipped to handle rain and other weather conditions, he said. The hybrid field would also have been more expensive, McKenna said.

Between Lexington’s middle schools and high school, there are over 700 students who participate in track and field, McKenna said. It is the most popular sport at public schools across Massachusetts and the country, he added.

 

Although a new track and field could present new problems, Coleman said the update was desperately needed and will be a boon for Lexington.

 

"It's a win-win for the entire community, with the increased usability of both the field and the track and, more importantly, the improved safety conditions,” Coleman said. “While it was a short-term inconvenience this summer and fall, it's going to be a great benefit to the town going forward."

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