- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 7, 2007

The shortage of indoor tracks in the Washington area is greater than the shortage of affordable housing.

Virtually the only free public indoor track in the metropolitan area is at Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex in Landover.

Because of a lack of supply and loads of demand, Sports & Learning has very limited hours during the winter, when high school track teams, masters athletes, recreational joggers and walkers all compete for the six lanes of the 200-meter track.

Nearly every afternoon, that track is reserved for high school practices or meets. The college kids need the track, too, so it is not uncommon for 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. to be the day’s only public hours.

The other top area indoor track facility is George Mason University’s Fieldhouse, which is accessible through a $500 annual fee after buying into George Mason’s Patriot Club.

Thomas Jefferson Community Center in Arlington, home of Potomac Valley indoor track meets, only is accessible via a membership fee to the center. But the surface of the four-lane 200-meter oval is soft urethane and is not as conducive to fast running as the surfaces at Sports & Learning or at George Mason.

Episcopal High School, a private school in Alexandria, has a legitimate indoor track facility, but it is not a public facility.

The lack of indoor tracks affects not only serious track runners but thousands of recreational exercisers who crowd outdoor tracks from spring to autumn but quit working out when it becomes dark earlier in the winter months.

Municipalities have neglected to fill this need because of cost. Just last year, Alexandria turned down a proposed outdoor track in its Comprehensive Athletic Fields Master Plan because of the high cost of building and maintaining a track. Obviously, indoor tracks can cost more to operate.

Friends of Indoor Track, a charitable organization started by a group of track enthusiasts in October 1995, attempted to build an indoor track a few years ago but also came up short-handed.

Fortunately, there are plans for an indoor track facility at the Lorton site of the former D.C. Correctional Facility.

Some local runners, such as Potomac Valley Track Club president Craig Chasse, were asked how an indoor track facility could be used in order to make the project financially viable.

“They are proposing a new facility to be built near Lorton on the Laurel Hill [Park] property,” Chasse said Dec. 19. “This would include a track and field complex. … It was a meeting to make sure we had enough hours to use the facility and the next step is to bring that to the [Fairfax County Park Authority] and developer to get them to go ahead on the project.

“We can certainly use the facility every hour of the winter months and if they put in removable flooring for the middle the other parts of the year could get heavy use as well. We could host masters meets, high school or youth meets, clinics for various field events, charge a small fee for daily usage, allow team practices for a fee. … They won’t move forward on financing unless they feel sure it is financially viable.”

Kirk Holley, manager of special projects for Fairfax County Park Authority, said a track is a possibility but “not a definite.”

Said Holley: “The [request for proposal] said that the proposal needed to be responsive specifically to the 2003 needs assessment [the Comprehensive Plan for Fairfax County]. And the indoor track is not a listed need in that study. You can extrapolate that the park authority is not looking to meet that need.”

At the moment, much is uncertain.

“We’ll have over 100,000 feet indoors,” Holley said. “The facilities indoor would be flexible, athletic activities mostly. But we are in flux. We are actively negotiating the usage of the building.”

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