The public has been prohibited from using the Tokay High School track after hours this summer to ensure the area remains in its best condition when classes resume, according to district officials.
There are plans to erect new fencing around Lodi High School to also lock its track, Assistant Superintendent Art Hand said.
"This is done to minimize damage from overuse and vandalism, especially with regards to newly seeded grass fields," Hand said.
During school breaks when students are not on campus, residents regularly use local school fields to play sports, or the tracks for running or walking.
Mark Bowman was blazing his own trail around Tokay's campus Thursday afternoon while his daughter was at the Tokay High pool with the Lodi Swim Club. He also uses the Tokay pool for Masters swimming in the early morning hours.
He said there appears to be some conflicting messages with signage in regards to the accessibility of the school's track he's been using since 1992.
"It's obvious the football field is fenced and off limits," Bowman said.
The field was recently reseeded.
Bowman grew up going to public schools in the 1960s and 1970s, and the public has always had access to school tracks, he said, adding that it should remain that way.
But now school fields and tracks are only available to potential users who apply under the district's facility use program guidelines which allow civic organizations access to areas usually closed to the public.
It's not a new policy, just one that is being more strictly enforced, Hand said earlier this week.
Trustee George Neely said he wasn't aware of the change, but that it would not be an issue brought before the board.
"If we don't close them, I can see us being responsible if someone gets hurt ... and then there's the cost of maintaining them," he said, adding that there are other sites like Downtown and Lodi Lake where community members can enjoy a walk.
Tracks and fields at Bear Creek and McNair high schools in North Stockton have also been closed, as have elementary campuses in Lodi.
"It's sad that we live close to a high school and elementary school and can't access either one when school is out," Lodi resident Chrisy Richesin said.
"I understand there needing to be maintenance during summer. But to permanently lock up playgrounds, tracks and sports fields seems unfair, especially when there is no public park within walking distance in our neighborhood."
When she was growing up, kids looked forward to walking to the local schools to play during summer break.
"Locking up the campuses is just taking away what little is left for families to do together in this town," Richesin said.
The staff-level decision was made to save potential costs born by the department's very limited maintenance budget and support staff time, according to Hand.
He refutes claims that the facilities should be open to taxpayers who fund them.
"Taxes paid to support schools are collected for the purpose of providing school facilities, not parks. School district budgets are not structured so that staff can maintain facilities in an open park-like environment," Hand said. "In order to fulfill our obligation to provide safe, well-maintained schools using very meager funds, limited public accessibility is an unfortunate requirement."
Whether it was related or not, one day last week during the evening hours, someone broke into Lodi Swim Club's storage unit at the Tokay High pool and stole a flat-screen TV and two cameras used for filming underwater swimmers. Donations are being requested to replace these items.
Contact Lodi Swim Coach John Griffin at 368-8475.
News-Sentinel Sports Editor Scott Howell contributed to this report.