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District considers options to keep school tracks open, safe

Stephen Svinth and his two sons — Nathan, 10, and Joseph, 3 — have attended the Medford School Board’s last two meetings to ask district officials to reopen the McLoughlin Middle School track to the public on the weekends.

The middle school track in west Medford used to be open to the community after school and on weekends until about six weeks ago when an arsonist started a small fire at the nearby Jackson Elementary, compelling McLoughlin administrators to lock the gates to their track on nights and weekends.

“We also had several incidents of vandalism and undesirable items being left on our campus overnight and on the weekends,” said McLoughlin Principal Linda White in an email. “We obviously want to keep our campus safe for our students.”

Medford police Detective Sgt. Brent Mak said there have been three property-related incidents at Jackson and two property-related incidents at McLoughlin reported to police in the last two months.

At the Feb. 9 board meeting, Svinth reminded board and school officials that McLoughlin’s track is the “Bear Creek Corporation Community Track” and referred them to an article published in 1999 in the Mail Tribune.

According to the article, Tyler Hoffbuhr, a 1998 graduate of South Medford High School, launched a fundraising campaign to construct all-weather tracks at McLoughlin and Hedrick middle schools and refurbish the track at North Medford High School. In the article, former Medford schools Superintendent Steve Wisely said the tracks, once completed, would be open to community runners during non-school hours.

Current Superintendent Brian Shumate said he gave principals permission to close parts of their campuses to the public, especially at night, after several schools in the district were vandalized and damaged. 

“We realize that this has caused a hardship for some families who wish to use our facilities on the weekends for recreation,” he said in an email. “We are in the process of working with the local community to help us monitor the properties so that we can open them back up to use by the general public.”

Late Wednesday afternoon, Austin Frost and his three kids and 12-week-old pup, Molly, played in the field inside McLoughlin’s track. The kids — Austin Frost Jr., 8, Jade Frost, 10, and Teddy Peckham, 7 — did handstands and tumbled around in the grass while Molly ran to and fro.

Austin Frost said his family has not tried accessing the track on the weekend but would like that option, especially since he and his girlfriend work weekdays.

“Families are together on the weekends, so it would make sense for it to be open then,” he said.

Since moving into a home bordering McLoughlin three months ago, Frost said he’s brought his kids down to the track about three times.

“It’s a great, open park for flying kites or doing picnics,” he said.

“This spring and summer, we plan to use it a lot more. We've got to run the energy out of the kids."

At the March 2 board meeting, Stephen Svinth’s wife, Sarah Svinth, suggested that neighbors team up to take turns opening and locking the McLoughlin gates on the weekend.

“I don’t want the field to be open at night, but we want it to be available during the day for the kids,” Svinth said Tuesday.

The Svinths live about two blocks away from the school, and Stephen Svinth said he would like to take his sons there on the weekends now that the weather is nice to ride bikes, walk, throw the football or play basketball or soccer. He taught his oldest son to ride his bike there.

“My youngest son got a bike for Christmas that he would like to try out,” he said Tuesday. “And rather than ride on the sidewalk, it would make sense to ride on the track like his brother did for so many years.”

Since the school closed the track on the weekends, Svinth has seen families walking around the perimeter trying to figure out how to get in, while more nimble kids just hop the fence.

Svinth said that his only alternative is to throw the kids’ bikes in the car and drive to Lewis Park or The Commons.

“I understand that they had problems with people there at night, and we agree it should be locked down at night,” he said. “But if there are citizens there on the weekends, that should discourage those people from trying to get in there.”

Svinth said Shumate contacted him Tuesday after the meeting to discuss possible solutions.

Not all Medford school tracks and fields are closed to the public.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

Teddy Peckham, 7, and Jade Frost, 10, goof around near the track at the McLoughlin Middle School field on Wednesday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch