Track closed, residents miffed

PACING—A runner uses the Oak Park High School track. The school wants it locked for safety reasons. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

PACING—A runner uses the Oak Park High School track. The school wants it locked for safety reasons. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

Bernie Grossman, a longtime Oak Park resident, has an early morning fitness routine that he’s been following for as long as he can remember. At least twice a week at 6 a.m. Grossman goes to Oak Park High School and runs laps on the track around the football field.

Those days may be over.

School officials recently surrounded the stadium and its track with fencing and placed the facilities under lock and key.

Oak Park Principal Kevin Buchanan said the track was closed due to student safety and security concerns.

“Oak Park Unified School District examined possible measures to enhance security at all schools, including surveillance cameras, additional campus supervisors and fencing that could improve a school’s ability to control access and maintain security of the campus,” Buchanan said.

The principal said the rear of the campus where the track is located had been open and “vulnerable.”

“We needed to limit the points of access to the ones we could realistically and personally supervise,” Buchanan said.

But residents who use the track are upset because they say it is their tax dollars that helped build it in 2005 and that it should remain accessible to the public. In addition, Grossman said, school district parents contributed approximately $400,000 in fundraising dollars to build the track.

Grossman doesn’t believe that closing the track will increase school security since the front of the campus facing Kanan Road remains open to the public.

The track and field are now a “fortress” and are the only part of the campus that is closed off, he said. Sometimes the facility is locked, sometimes it is not.

“There is no rhyme or reason why or when the gates are locked or when they are open,” Grossman said. “At times it will be locked up tight, but over the last few days (the gates) have been open.”

Oak Park resident and track runner David Bay agrees with his fitness pal, Grossman.

For Bay, running on the rubberized track rather than on the street serves a dual purpose. The track is safer than running on roads amid traffic, and it is easier on the joints and muscles.

“I have lived in Oak Park for 17 years,” Bay said. “I have been using the track three or four times per week, back when the track was actually dirt.”

But Buchanan is adamant that the safety of students comes first.

As for the argument that the back fencing will not increase safety because the front of the school is open, Buchanan said additional security staff has been hired to patrol the campus and make sure that visitors obtain the proper clearance to be on campus.

Jason Meskis, Oak Park High assistant principal, said the rear of the school has been entirely fenced and is now secure.

“All visitors to school now will be routed to the front of campus on Kanan where OPHS staff members supervise access,” Meskis told The Acorn.

Meskis said the fields remain open to several community groups such as Real SoCal Soccer and the American Youth Basketball Association (AYBA).

“It is understandable why people would want to use the schools’ facilities, yet our athletic and sports facilities are outdoor classrooms and students, teachers and coaches need them to be in good condition and working order,” he said.

Because safety has been a main concern, a new position was added to the school district staff—director of student support and school safety. Former Oak View High School Principal Stewart McGugan was given the job.

“Given current school safety concerns, it is incumbent upon us to improve our ability to control and monitor campus access,” McGugan said.

Additionally, Martin Klauss, assistant superintendent of business services, said the district has a fiscal responsibility to protect school grounds and reduce liability for accidents that could arise from “unsanctioned activities.”

While Grossman and Bay agree that student safety is paramount, they say the loss of track use still stings. They are hoping a compromise can be struck with administrators.

“We’re not running during school hours,” Bay said. “We’re all out of there before zero period starts. I’m all for keeping it locked up during school hours, but as a public school we should have a place to go to exercise in off hours.”