The Qualicum school district has taken a step toward getting the dilapidated running track at Ballenas Secondary School resurfaced.
Improving the track at the Parksville school is one of the priorities identified in the Regional District of Nanaimo’s Recreation Services Master Plan for District 69 but little progress has been made.
School board staff has indicated there is a strong desire and significant support from various organizations in the community to have the track resurfaced.
The board of trustees passed a motion at the regular school board meeting on Aug. 27 that recommended a steering committee be created this fall to get the project moving. It will involve representatives from school district and from community groups and partners, who have long advocated for the initiative.
SD69 has hired Koers Engineering to assess the cost to build an oval, with eight-lane sprint track. It is estimated to be between $700,000 and $870,000. As an initial investment, the school board has committed $200,000 to be drawn from a local capital account that has an uncommitted balance of $453,806.
Additional funding is expected to come from various community partners, as well as through provincial and federal grants.
Local track club officials welcome the news but remain cautious.
Kim Longmuir, who coaches of Mid Island Distance Running Club with husband Randy, Jane Waite, president of the Oceanside Track and Field Club, and Ballenas Whalers track coach Robyn Elliott are all pleased to hear of the latest development.
“Randy and I are beyond thrilled to hear this news,” said Kim. “We worked tirelessly on this project a decade ago with the regional district and school district. There was a 40-page study done by a consultant. But we lost our energy on it when the project got pushed to the bottom and shelved because they were looking at a multi-sportsplex. We just couldn’t keep flying the flag anymore. We chose to refocus and dedicate our time to coaching and do the best with what we’ve got.”
Waite, who resumed what the Longmuirs started a couple of years ago, is also happy but is not celebrating yet.
“It’s fantastic but it’s so long now that I am still cautious with my optimism,” said Waite.
Elliott also wants the project to come to fruition but remains guarded with her reaction.
“Will it really happen?” she asked. “It’s been such a long process with so many people that have been struggling to get this track happening over the years.”
SD69 superintendent Keven Elder said the school board is “confident” about making this project a reality.
“We feel, having the board feed the project $200,000, toward what would likely be a $1-million project, that it will draw interests from other parts of the community and we know it will,” said Elder. “We’ve had people and groups over the years that have said we’re in and we want to participate and contribute. We believe we can get this project going. It’s just a question of putting the money together and we believe as a community, we can do that.”
Parksville Qualicum Beach coaches have lived with the decaying state of the cinder track over the years and still manage to produce elite athletes that represented Canada at national and international competitions. Kim said a better facility can also provide significant boost to their training.
“Winning is all about spirit and hard work but in the last few years, we had some of our athletes get injured directly from hitting a rock or a pile of weeds,” said Kim. “So in the 2018-19 season we had to rent the Nanaimo track on occasions so that our athletes could use their spikes and starting blocks without putting their knees on the gravel to prepare them for competitions. So it would be wonderful to have one in our backyard to keep our athletes here and safe.”
All three coaches agreed that a rubberized track will not solely benefit athletes alone.
“The track will offer so much more and not s not just for our track and field athletes,” said Longmuir. “With our age demographics, a safe facility will welcome people in wheelchairs, people with mobility issues, people undergoing rehab from stroke and other illnesses. I think there’s so many people in the community that have been shortsighted thinking it’s just for young athletes. It’s so much more than that.”