Workers from Copeland Paving tear up the old track surface at Ashland High School earlier this month. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]

So close

The Ashland Schools Foundation has raised $350,000 toward restoring Ashland High School’s dilapidated track and needs to find $20,000 more in the next two weeks to move forward on a project that unofficially began with the removal of the track’s surface earlier this month.

Robert W. Julian Track and Field was closed to the public in May after a risk management company deemed it unsuitable for use, and the Grizzlies have been unable to host a track meet there since 2015 for the same reason.

Originally, the trio behind the AHS Track Restoration Fund — Jim Williams, Pete Julian and Neil Holland — sought $500,000 in donations for an overhaul that would have included extensive work on the foundation in addition to improvements to the infield, but that plan was scrapped recently when the track committee determined that that number was out of reach in order to meet its main goal of reopening a workable track by the start of the 2018 spring track season.

“I wouldn’t say it was a difficult (decision),” Williams said. “It was disappointing for the long-term vision, but the whole thing was dictated by a time window. We’re very happy that we came up with a minimum viable solution within the time frame. It was a very tight window all along, so it was going to be a stretch to begin with and I think we did pretty darn well. We’re so, so close right now. We need a few more contributions. A couple good-sized ones will get us there.”

Williams estimated that about 90 percent of the money raised so far has come from individual donors and the rest from three to four “smallish” corporate donations. Though the district green-lighted the demolition, the new track can’t be installed until the foundation hits its revised fundraising goal of $370,000.

Williams is confident ASF will raise the rest of the money, after which an International Association of Athletics Federations-certified BSS-300 track identical to the one at Southern Oregon University’s Raider Stadium will be installed by Beynon Sports Surfaces. The renovation will include a regraded and repaired sub-surface, Williams said.

“It’s a couple of grades up from the basic,” he said of the replacement track, which will have a seven-to-10-year lifespan. “It’s really a competition-level surface. It does wonders for the athletes. It improves times. Having a really high-quality surface makes running faster.”

The track was originally installed in 1991 and resurfaced in 2003, and evidence of its deterioration was clear to anybody who's used it either in competition or recreationally in recent years. The surface was peppered with divots and small tufts of grass grew in cracks that splintered across its lanes. Worse, the foundation and retaining wall have shown signs of failure, which is why the track sagged in places.

The committee had hoped to raise enough money to replace the foundation and retaining wall, but Williams said the new solution will be adequate, if not ideal.

“To be clear, we are taking care of a lot of the track foundation,” he said. “We’re kind of re-stabilizing it, we’re clearing out roots — there are a couple very bad sections of the track that are going to be removed entirely and replaced. So we are taking care of most of those needs.

“If you’re talking about a much bigger vision, adding spectator stands and adding additional walkways around the track, then you would do more with the (retaining) wall.”

Future improvements which may also include a new scoreboard are still on the table, he added, but in order to reach those goals the schools foundation will need more time.

“Once we do this track we’ll reset and say, ‘OK, what’s the next dream scenario?’” he said. “Instead of saying we need $75,000 to do some infield work, we might as well say, 'What would be the next big milestone for us?' So we’ll reset the plan entirely, I think. … I think what you do in an ideal world is say, ‘What is the dream facility, what is the actual budget?’ And the actual budget would probably be over a million dollars. And that would take a multiple-year fundraising effort that’s really concerted and really formal. But instead, we had a closed track and no running.”

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.

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