Vermont indoor track in search of footing; could VTC build the answer?

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/5/2019 9:53:13 PM
Modified: 7/5/2019 9:52:59 PM

RANDOLPH, Vt. — It’s no secret that Vermont high school indoor track and field is struggling to get by.

The sport features nearly 450 athletes and is used by many of them as a tuneup for outdoor track in the spring. But in-state facilities that can host regular-season and state championship meets are few and far between, governed by colleges and universities that have their own programs and priorities.

Vermont Technical College, a public college of about 1,650 students in Randolph, may have a solution.

In May, Vermont representative Jay Hooper, of Orange-Washington-Addison counties, commissioned a report by the University of Vermont’s Legislative Research Service to examine the costs and benefits of a multi-purpose indoor track facility on the VTC campus. The conclusion estimated a facility of usable size would cost approximately $30 million to complete.

“Stakeholders in Vermont state athletics, such as Vermont’s high school administrators, Vermont Technical College and athletics coaches, have identified a need and demand for a multipurpose indoor track facility that could accommodate both sporting and community events,” the study said. “Building a multipurpose indoor track facility on VTC’s campus in Randolph would address the growing demand for a weatherproof space.”

Hilary Linehan, VTC’s director of athletics, however, said the concept is still in its early stages.

“It’s not actually a project; it’s an idea,” Linehan said. “We’re exploring the possibility.”

It’s an idea that could help alleviate some of Vermont track’s biggest problems.

A facility shortage in the state is nothing new. Vermont has just three weatherproof facilities capable of hosting indoor track practices and meets, two of which — Middlebury College’s Virtue Field House and Norwich University’s Shaprio Field House — are unavailable to the Vermont Indoor Track Association for varsity use. UVM’s Gardner-Collins Indoor Track is the only other in-state facility, and it has hosted the state championship meet for the last three seasons.

Middlebury’s building is the newest, a state-of-the-art arena finished in 2015 that features a 200-meter track and nine 60-meter sprint lanes, plus dedicated jumping and vaulting areas. It also houses McCormick Field, a 21,000-square-foot turf surface inside its oval, making it an ideal host for varsity indoor track meets.

Construction costs for the facility amounted to $29.5 million, with soft costs — including architect fees, legal fees and other pre- and post-construction costs — amounted to about $7.5 million. The space is unavailable to outside groups, Vermont Principals Association executive director Bob Johnson said in February.

Norwich’s facility was built in 1987 and features a 200-meter track in its 50,000-square-foot space. The VPA last hosted its indoor state championship meet there in 2016, an event that ended well after midnight. Johnson said in February that Norwich has since priced itself out of consideration.

Gardner-Collins presents its own problems, most notably as the smallest track in the state at 160 meters. But a $95 million renovation to UVM’s athletic facilities, including Gutterson Field House, Patrick Gymnasium and the school’s fitness and wellness center to which Gardner-Collins is connected, is currently underway and isn’t scheduled to end until 2021. The project may affect its accessibility and could jeopardize state meets over the next several seasons.

“From my perspective, as an athletic administrator and a local parent, there just aren’t enough in-state indoor facilities for the things we need to get done,” Linehan said. “We have snow in mid-November. And it’s not just track; it’s indoor places to practice, indoor soccer. There’s a lack of indoor facilities in general in the state.”

Despite the facility shortage, participation in indoor track in Vermont is on the rise. The Legislative Research Service study noted a near doubling of high school indoor track teams, both varsity and club, to about 47 this year from 24 in 2007. In 2015, there were 23 varsity indoor track teams in the state featuring an average 388 student-athletes per meet. This past winter, there were 29 varsity teams with an average of 430 athletes per meet.

“Despite increasing demand for indoor track and field opportunities, the lack of indoor competition space has limited the indoor track and field athletic season,” the study wrote. “Since Norwich University’s facility has become unavailable for (VITA) use, the number of indoor meets per season has dropped from eight in 2015 to four in 2019.”

A VTC facility, the study said, could host more than just athletic events. It could stage commencements, concerts, trade shows and fairs, as well as conduct other university functions in a weatherproof space. Artificial turf within the oval could also benefit all of VTC’s athletic programs.

Linehan said the facility is part of VTC’s larger plan to reinvigorate its main campus. The next step, she said, is to commission a study to investigate the project in detail. Linehan estimated the school would need to raise about $50,000 to complete the study and that there is no current plan to do so.

“As a parent of a high school track athlete, I would like to see spaces that already exist be accessible to high school athletes,” she said. “One issue seems to be that these spaces are not welcoming to their surrounding communities. They have too much use internally. … And for a lot of these communities, building a new facility is just not financially feasible. An indoor high school track season is six or eight weeks. That’s a small drop in a high school athletic budget that has specific needs.

“I do think it’s a problem. But it’s an expensive problem.”

A multipurpose facility on campus, she said, could help VTC’s visibility.

“We want to improve our athletic programs,” she said. “It can be a way to stabilize enrollments. We are pretty competitive against (NCAA) Division III schools in the region. It would be great to put ourselves on the map.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.




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