New All-Weather Track A Huge Plus For Rim Country

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If the predictions of veteran coach Chuck Hardt come true, the all-weather artificial running surface on the Payson High School track will pay huge dividends.

Slated to be completed in mid-July, the new track will mean that next spring, Payson High will be in the running to host the East regional championships.

In the near future, the school could bid to host state meets, Hardt said.

During the summer months, Payson will have the facilities to be the site of Junior Olympic track and field meets that attract "a couple of thousand athletes," Hardt said.

With a topnotch track facility, the Rim country also could draw national-class elite athletes looking to train at elevations.

Currently, Flagstaff is about the only site in the state that attracts those types of long-distance runners.

Having an all-weather track also will result in Payson High School once again hosting prep track events.

Due to the deteriorating condition of the old dirt track, the school stopped holding meets locally more than two years ago.

The Payson Rotary Invitational, once one of the premier small school meets in Arizona, has been held the past two years at Apache Junction High School.

Staying off the road and competing at home, Hardt said, "will save the school a few thousand dollars in travel."

Another plus of the new track will be a savings in the amount of money that previously went into trying to maintain the old dirt track for practices.

When not in use by school teams, the new track will be open to the community.

"It'll be a much safer training environment and you won't have to worry about holes and rocks," Hardt said.

Finishing the track will mark the culmination of a project that began about 15 years ago. Although there was ample community support for the track, the school district was never able to find the money in its already tight budget.

About four years ago, when the current facility fell into such disrepair that meets could no longer be held, the Stadium Improvement Project Committee was founded.

In 1999, when Herb Weissenfels took over as school superintendent, he hooked up with a group of local businessmen to help the committee find the money to build an all-weather surface.

Much of the funding for the project eventually came from Credit for Kids' tax money and a $150,000 donation from the Tonto Apache Tribe.

When donating the money, tribe officials said they envisioned the day when the Tonto Apache Track and Field team could use the facility for practices and meets.

The Tonto Apache team now practices on reservation dirt fields and travels to Phoenix for all its meets.

Completion of the long-awaited facility was slowed last spring when sewer lines and cables in the middle of the track had to be relocated. Those renovations upped the price tag of the track from original estimates of $200,000 to what Weissenfels estimates will be closer to $300,000.

Although the track has long been the main focus of the project, new stadium seating and improved lighting also are on the agenda for the future. Those will be completed, Weissenfels said, when the money becomes available.

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