Your View: A track for measuring officials’ success

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Your View: A track for measuring officials’ success
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By Gary Carr, Alexandria (File photo)

To the editor:
Over the past 15 years, I have appeared before city council and the school board advocating for the restoration of the historic running track at George Washington Middle School. With a new slate of city councilors and school board members now confirmed, it might be useful to use the running track as a measure of their success over the next three years.

For a little background, there was once a stadium behind the current George Washington Middle School — formerly a high school — that included a running track, field and extensive bleachers. When the school was converted into a middle school, in someone’s infinite wisdom, it was determined that a quality running track was no longer required there. This decision runs contrary to the fact that there is but one regulation running track in the entire city.

The case for a track could be made on a variety of grounds, from community needs to the battle against childhood obesity. As our new elected officials move forward, ask about their position on the Braddock/Lenny Harris Field, which is city operated, and the adjacent George Washington Middle School field — operated by Alexandria City Public Schools — from the standpoint of educational policy and economic development.

That area is indisputably one of the most valuable tracts of land in Alexandria. It sits astride the Braddock Road Metro station, and has taxi service, bus stops and ample parking. It is a developer’s dream. It is also one of the largest pieces of open space on the east side of the
city.

Those with institutional memory will know that a deal to trade this tract was nixed, and hence you see all of the development north of the site near the Monroe Street bridge. Now, it appears that the crosshairs are quietly being focused on this historic site. The impression is left that there is no plan for improvement, because there is a plan for development. The question is: Where and what is the plan?

This parcel is the only place left in the city where a championship level 8-lane track can be located. There is no other place. That it is the location of a historic track and field, where professional football games were once held, is important. But it is a burgeoning school population that is the crucial subtext to any debate.

The multi-billion dollar Potomac Yard development has been planned to the foot, yet this important plot is still left wanting for improvement. One must ask: “Where are the children of the future supposed to play?” The research is clear that a child who exercises regularly does better academically. Also, by attracting runners and running events to the city, it would have a positive economic impact.

The city has two lovely baseball diamonds that only a few are allowed to use. It has numerous fields that are mostly restricted by regulation or practicality to athletes or teams, but it has just one regulation track. Yet running, jogging and walking are the most democratic of all sports, open to anyone willing to participate and with no economic barrier to entry. Ironically, the existing is one of the most difficult facilities in the city to access. This needs to change.

When evaluating the performance of our leaders, whether on the school board or city council, press them about their vision for the Braddock and George Washington fields.

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