HAVERHILL — Imagine having a high school baseball team but no diamond, a football team but no field, a swim team and no pool or a hockey team and no rink.
That's the situation Haverhill High School's track team faced when it was forced to cancel events, including the long-standing Ottaviani Invitational, the longest standing track meet in New England, because the school's track was in such bad condition.
Mayor James Fiorentini asked the City Council when it met Tuesday night to approve borrowing $713,000 to rebuild the Sapienza Memorial Track behind the high school.
His request was placed on file for 10 days, as city ordinance requires whenever there is a request for borrowing.
A discussion did ensue with Councilor Melinda Barrett questioning the mayor as to why seating for spectators is not part of the planned renovations, while Councilor Timothy Jordan questioned why the track wasn't renovated at the time the high school's new multi-purpose field was built.
If the borrowing is approved, students should be able to use the running track in the spring of next year, Fiorentini said. Because the track is in poor condition, it has been off limits to students since the spring of 2018.
Fiorentini said the initial estimate for the project was as low as $500,000, which the city would have partially paid with $300,000 set aside from an earlier project and the remainder through borrowing. The latest estimate for the track work, however, is $921,000, plus a 10% contingency, he said.
"Adding an eighth lane (to the track) and relocating the long jump and field events to accommodate the eighth lane contributed to the higher cost," Fiorentini said. "The higher cost means, however, that we now need quite a bit more money to do it."
Fiorentini told Barrett that although spectator seating for track and field events was not included in the plan, "it can be done at any time."
"I hope we can do it next year," he said, noting money may become available by reducing the cost of building a new animal shelter.
The mayor said an estimate of $2 million to build a new shelter is not affordable, and that he's looking to reduce that cost.
Jordan said he has been pushing for the track to be rebuilt.
"It is long overdue," Jordan said, noting he and other councilors received the support of numerous parents of children in the track program.
Jordan questioned the mayor on the timing of the project.
"The other thing that concerns me is that it wasn't done at the same time as the multi-purpose field," said Jordan, who indicated the same contractor and designer that did the multi-purpose field is doing the track rebuild.
He said that by doing the projects together, it would have saved "several hundred thousand dollars" and would have prevented the loss of an entire track season.
"Personally, I think it was fiscally irresponsible not to have done the two projects together," Jordan said.
Fiorentini responded saying the projects could not have been done in tandem because of bidding laws.
Jordan suggested that both projects might have been considered as a single larger project to save money.
"I just hope going forward we are looking for those opportunities when we have two things that desperately need to be done," he said.
The track and the field that is within the track were named in memory of the late Tony Sapienza, a long-time Haverhill High math teacher and cross country coach. He was a world-class runner.
The track is in such poor condition that no track and field events have been held there since the spring of 2018, Athletic Director Tom O'Brien said.
"Last year we determined the track was unsafe to use," O'Brien said about the 20-year-old track that has been patched over and over again and cannot be patched any further.
The project will include resurfacing the entire track and adding an eighth lane needed for competition.
O'Brien said the Ottaviani Invitational is not only one of the biggest sporting events the high school hosts each year, but it is one of the biggest events it hosts, period.
"It draws over 1,000 athletes and fans from schools across New England," O'Brien said.
He said the track is also used by dozens of other high school teams for training purposes, as well as hundreds of students each year in physical education classes.
"That facility extends well beyond just high school use," O'Brien said. "Our extensive middle school track programs host large events there each year and several outside groups use it for events, including the very popular Bob Laprel Road Race taking place this weekend to just name one."
It is also an important venue for our community, O'Brien said.
"Outside of school hours, the track is open to the public and many take advantage, using it for walking and jogging," he said. "We installed lighting around the track a few years ago so people could walk the track in the evening."
Haverhill High track coach Mike McGuire said an eighth lane will allow the high school to host Massachusetts Interscholastic MIAA championship meets and that an eight-lane track is a preference of the MIAA.
McGuire said that in addition to replacing the track, the long jump and triple jump runways will be resurfaced, as will the pole vault area, and the shot-put and discus-throwing areas will be updated.