Rebuilding of Merritt’s athletic track is well underway, with a number of improvements coming for track and field users following the destruction of the original six-lane oblong track during the November 2021 flooding event.

Many have fond memories of the track, located at the corner of Canford and Main, which has been used for community events and school track meets since it was built in the late 1950s. The track did not qualify for provincial track meets due to its oblong shape, but the rebuilt track will feature an oval shape and two additional lanes.

KLL Contractors were pegged by the city to complete the rebuild project, which is now well underway. During the July 25 regular meeting of council, staff presented a number of options for the track’s repair.

“Voght Park was flooded during the November 2021 atmospheric river event,” said Sean Strang, director of recovery and mitigation for the city, in his report at the meeting. “As a result of the flood, the track and field were left with significant damage from the water and silt deposits. The Recovery Operations team has been working with the City and Provincial Disaster Financial Assistance (DFA) team members to determine the best path forward to repair the damages.”

Councillors were faced with three options: rebuilding the track as-is at a DFA covered cost of $440,000, rebuilding the track in an oval shape with a cinder surface at $503,000, or rebuilding the track as an oval with a polymer surface at a cost of $1,346,000.

Council ultimately settled on the second option, with the contingent that city staff explore other funding options to later install a polymer surface, which could be done over the finished cinder track. The second option also includes a new irrigation system and drainage as the previous track did not have sufficient coverage for watering, and lacked a drainage system entirely. The long jump pits will also be improved with concrete curbing.

Councillor Wendy Charney disagreed with the decision, noting that cinder tracks are uncommon and likely won’t attract many provincial meets. She said records likely won’t be recorded on cinder. Charney also asked staff if School District 58, one of the track’s biggest users, has been asked to contribute any money.

“We have reached out a couple of different times, that is on a city staffer’s desk right now,” said Strang to councillor Charney. “There wasn’t the indication that there was a significant amount of money beyond a fairly token contribution, but we continue to explore that as a possibility.”

Strang also noted that a part of the original request for proposal for the project was to ensure the track is able to accommodate provincial and federal meets and records.

Peter Lorenz, president of the Nicola Valley Rodeo Association and former professional track athlete, also spoke in support of polymer track. While he applauded the city’s move to go to eight lanes, he warned against another cinder track due to the unfenced nature of Voght Park, rainfall, and potential ruts from other uses.

City council must choose on the final surface of the track soon if they seek to have the work completed by the same contractor in the same time frame. Staff noted the polymer track can be installed on top of an existing surface.