DMS Cross-Country Course and Access Road Officially Open

The Dade Middle School track team comes boiling out of the school Thursday to attend a ribbon cutting for DMS's new cross-country course.

Dade Superintendent of Schools Jan Harris officially opened the new, long-awaited cross-country course at Dade Middle School at a ribbon-cutting Thursday afternoon attended by coaches, student athletes, school board members, county officials and the ever-vigilant local press. The super thanked Dade County and its citizens for their support in building the course and the access road that was built in conjunction.

"This capital project would not be possible without SPLOST [special purpose local option sales tax] funds," Dr. Harris told the assembled officials at the ceremony and repeated in a press release. She listed the cost as $82,500 for the cross-country course and $356,493 for the access road.

She said investing in young people now came out cheaper in the end than solving the problems neglecting them caused later. "I would rather spend money on athletics and band instruments than to build jails," she said.

​The ribbon-cutting ceremony was preceded by an informational session at the school and followed by a tour--in near-90-degree heat; the super had to put on her hat--of the road and the part of the track that shares the roadway. The track, which is otherwise made of mulched natural materials, crosses the pavement and shares it for varying distances depending upon which course the runner follows.

​​The track itself is approximately 3/4 mile long, and the competition middle school course of 2 miles and high school course of 3.1 miles will be made up of a scheme of slightly varying lap repetitions. Architect Ken Cress gave out diagrams of the middle- and high-school lap plans.

For practice, said track coach Anna Thomas (pictured here with a track team member, "We like long laps." Thus her athletes run on the pavement for as much as 2/10s of a mile, she said, which is about half the length of the .42-mile access road.

The access road is expected to relieve congestion at the middle school by routing traffic one-way, beginning at the Ag Building, in a loop behind the building that stretches along I-59 briefly.

Sharing the space between runners and rollers was the issue that dominated the informational session before the tour. As Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley put it: "You got kids running and you got cars--you can't mix the two."

This car came meandering down the access road as county officials, board members and the ever-vigilant press toured the cross-country course, then turned around politely and drove off. It's simple curiosity, said Coach Thomas.

But until a gate is installed and a management system is worked out, the two are in fact mixing. Dr. Sandra Spivey, principal of the middle school, mentioned in the information session, and Coach Thomas repeated on the walking tour, that drivers had come rolling down the road during track practice even when school staff had blocked off the road by parking cars across it. One driver had managed to get around the blockade by maneuvering into a ditch and up the bank, said Coach Thomas. "I think they're just curious about what we're doing back here," she said.

There is already a gate at the Ag Building end of the access road. Another will be installed at the school end shortly. But how to manage who can come in and when is still under discussion.

Complicating the point is the fact that part of the access road is the longtime right of way to property belonging to former Trenton Mayor Anthony Emanuel and his wife, Patty Nethery. The couple have used that way in to the old Nethery farm since their other access was cut off when I-59 was constructed, said Rumley. He said they plan to build a home on the property soon and should be consulted when planning how to manage road traffic. "They need to be at a meeting here," said Rumley, "because you're going to be challenged."

(Photo: Pictured from left are Carolyn Bradford, school board chair; Dr. Jan Harris, superintendent; architect Ken Cress and county boss Ted Rumley. Below: map of access road.)

Dr. Harris, asked later, said the couple had attended one board of education meeting during the planning period for the access road. During the information session she agreed that access for them could be a problem if they came in just before the road was closed off for a meet. "They're just stuck there until we get finished," she said.

​​But Coach Thomas did not seem worried that motor traffic would be a problem, and in fact a car that drove up during the walking tour turned around and left meekly before the coach had made full eye contact with the driver.

And from what architect Ken Cress said during the information session, a complete segregation of foot and motorized session does not seem to be the norm for these courses. "A lot of schools aren't as fortuante as you with all this green area," he said. "A lot of them use parking lots and streets."

And asked during the tour if he thought the track/road situation as it stood were ideal, he said it was the best the school system could do with what it needed and what it had.

Dr. Harris said the cross-country course is expected to bring revenue into the county as athletes and their families arrive for meets and stay to shop, eat and buy gas.

Coach Thomas and the super said that no meets have been scheduled for the track yet, since it was only this week declared open; but that they hope to stage at least one there this school year.

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