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Why lock away a public resource?

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Posted: Saturday, July 2, 2011 12:00 am

Can the Lodi Unified School District reconsider track closures?

As we http://www.lodinews.com/news/article_bdb962df-f50a-5631-a7ba-97147ca8fd3a.html"> reported Friday, LUSD is closing public access to the track at Tokay High School and plans to do the same at the Lodi High School track.

We wonder if the district might reconsider these steps. There are many — dozens and perhaps hundreds — of local residents who use these locations daily for fresh air and exercise. We also wonder if the district is sending the right message to the broader community with locked gates and “No Trespassing” signs on properties that have traditionally been enjoyed by the public.

Not that many years ago, it seemed public high schools were not just academic centers, but community centers. Places where citizens of every walk could gather for intellectual, cultural and recreational enrichment. Public education has stood for community, for being inclusive, not exclusive.

Tokay’s track is especially well-used, particularly in the summer. The track is all-weather and a forgiving surface to walk or jog on. It is ringed by trees and grass, providing a pleasant backdrop.

On most summer evenings, families, couples and young athletes alike move around the track. No one has kept any official tallies that we’re aware of, but it’s safe to say based on our informal observations that at least 100 people use the track on a daily basis, perhaps many more.

That’s a lot of exercise, a lot of calories burned (aren’t we all concerned about obesity, juvenile and otherwise?) and a fair amount of good will.

We’d bet that, with this rough economy, the Tokay track has been an attractive alternative for many in the community who want to exercise but may lack the money to join a gym.

The district rightly wants to protect its resources. We suspect, however, that vandals or thieves will just jump over fences and attempt what they will attempt.

So why should good, tax-paying citizens be excluded from such a resource for which they have paid? There really seems to be no strong argument for this.

Liability? Many schools and colleges in other communities still keep their tracks open for their communities. So there must be a way we can, too.

It is fair to ask, too, where will this end? Will all high school fields and tennis courts soon also be kept under lock and key?

Do the locked gates and “Keep Out” signs send a message reflecting what is convenient for officials, not necessarily best for the public?

Again, we wonder if this decision can be reconsidered by board members — or whether trustees can at least set a public hearing on the use of these public facilities.

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