Getting Off Track

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Dennis Dismuke has been a runner for most of his life. He loves the rush of endorphins that come with running and the various health benefits and habits he has passed on to his family. And in 2005, after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, it was the school district’s all-weather track which allowed him the ability to continue running on a more forgiving surface in the cooler temperatures of early morning and late evening.

“You can’t imagine the joy the all-weather track brought to me and my family,” Dismuke said.

Dismuke told the story to the Exeter Union High School District at its Sept. 18 meeting to illustrate his frustration and the frustration of others in the community with the recent decisions to close the track off from the community. Dismuke said he noticed a change about a year ago when the gates to the track were locked on Friday night after home football games and remained locked throughout the weekend. A few months later, he said the gates were locked during intercession then Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter breaks.

This summer, he said the situation was much worse. In June, Dismuke said the gates were locked the entire week of graduation and then for the rest of the month for reseeding the football field. After unsuccessfully getting an explanation from the Athletic Director Mike Powell, Dismuke said he took his concerns to Superintendent Tim Hire. Yet he still did not get an explanation as to why the track was closed.

And then a month ago, Dismuke said he was nearly locked into the track. He said he was running on the track during the EUHS football team’s practice.

“I got halfway through my workout when the team left the field and the lights went out at 9:45 a.m.,” Dismuke told the board. “The reset button did not work. I tried to finish my workout in semi-darkness only to hear the gates being locked.”

Dismuke said he stopped the custodian locking the gates and asked him why there is a sign saying “lights out at 10:30” yet they were already off.

“He had been told to lock up the minute the football team left,” Dismuke said.

Superintendent Tim Hire said he was unaware of any changes to the when the track was open from last year to this year. Principal Frank Silveira said the track had been closed due to some recent vandalism.

“Some trash cans had been lit on fire and the track was being ripped up,” Silveira said. “In June there was some seeding and maintenance issues. We will be meeting in the near future to to have this discussion and determine what the hours will be.”

In the meantime, Dismuke said many Exeter residents are getting their exercise in far less lit and much more dangerous places. He said a few weeks ago, he went cycling on Rocky Hill at 7 p.m. and counted 87 walkers, runners and bikers. A week later, he counted 74 and two weeks later 96.

“It suddenly occurred to me that the increase resulted from people being denied the use of the ‘community track’ and being forced to find an alternative. That explosion of mixed traffic on Rocky Hill might one day result in another cycling/pedestrian accident,” he told the board in reference to the tragic death of Mt. Whitney High School teacher Scott Nelson who swerved to miss a runner on Rocky Hill last summer.

The all-weather track was built with the intention of being open to the community. On Jan. 30, 2004, the Exeter Community Health Fund (ECHF), formerly the board of directors of Exeter’s Memorial Hospital, presented a check for $312,000 to the Exeter Union High School District board. At the time, ECHF board member Leon Ooley made the following statement about the donation, which, at the time, was the largest donation in the district’s history: “We felt it was something that was needed. It is something that can be used by the whole community.”

Dismuke said there is a plaque erected at the entrance to the track indicating the donation was intended for the health and well-being of the whole community.

“Access to the track is important to me,” he told the board. “It is important to my family. It is important to the community. We need a safe place to exercise. We need to a place to walk and run for the health benefits those activities give.”

He also said the district made statements that a separate lighting system would shut off at 10:30 p.m. during the summer heat.

“I am asking you to consider the mission statement and the welfare of the community and make a gates-open decision,” Dismuke told the board. “Please abide by the original intent of the donation and keep the track open morning and night, weekdays, weekends and holdidays.

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