For more than a decade, David Henderson has been a regular jogger at the Robert E. Lee High School track.
Several times a week, the 67-year-old retiree drove to the campus for a morning jog, stretches and more.
He was not alone as others took advantage of the facility to get in some exercise. So, when Henderson learned of a new policy that will limit public use of Tyler ISD’s high school athletic facilities, he was unhappy.
“Where is the public in public education, in public schools?” he said, adding that it is the taxpayers who funded the facilities.
“Now, you’re going to tell us we can’t go on and use the track on the weekends, and we paid all this money and put this turf in there?” Henderson said, who graduated from Lee in 1964.
The biggest change that comes with the policy is that Lee and John Tyler high school athletic facilities will be closed on the weekends. This includes the track and tennis courts. The fences around both campuses will enforce this.
However, there are still opportunities for public use. District spokeswoman Dawn Parnell said the track and tennis courts at both high schools will be open to the public from 6 to 8 a.m. Monday through Friday and in the evenings until the last coach leaves on those days.
That said, priority is given to students and/or coaches who need to use the facilities during those times.
The artificial turf fields at both high schools will be closed to the public at all times.
TISD Superintendent Gary Mooring said the decision to limit the access is related to campus security and preservation of facilities, primarily the artificial turf.
“The logic is that we’ve researched it with other school districts that have had the (artificial turf) surfaces, (and) there’s a lot of trouble when they’re left open without supervision,” Mooring said.
This trouble could include vandalism of the facilities, spilled drinks or gum on the field, he said.
The district spent $2.3 million on John Tyler athletic upgrades during the past two years and $2.1 million on Lee upgrades this year. Upgrades at both campuses included the artificial turf, lighting, bleachers, concession stands and restrooms. All projects were paid for with unused 2008 bond money.
That’s a big tax-dollar commitment that the district wants to preserve the best it can, Mooring said.
Just as the district wouldn’t leave its gyms open for public use all weekend long, they aren’t going to leave the artificial turf fields open for the public either, Mooring said.
Because there is no way to fence off the turf from the track, the district wants to keep the track open only when TISD staff members are there, which is why the weekends are out.
Ms. Parnell said district administrators made the decision with the students in mind.
“Our first priority is to provide a facility and keep it in the best condition for our students to be able to utilize (it) for athletic purposes,” she said.
Last year, the district didn’t have an official policy in place related to public use of the athletic facilities, Ms. Parnell said.