Jumpers on the Natrona County High School indoor track team had to be reminded to tamp the sand off their cleats after each jump during a practice earlier this week. Tracking the tiny pebbles across the brand new facility, which hadn’t even been completed yet, was highly discouraged.
This indoor track season is different for the Mustangs and Fillies. Instead of being spread out across the competition track adjacent to Cheney Alumni Field, they fill all corners of the new Mustangs Activities Complex. The former home of temporary classrooms and a hardwood court for basketball and volleyball now stands as Casper’s first fully functional indoor track facility.
Natrona County High will host the city’s first indoor track meet Saturday, giving other teams and spectators an opportunity to see what has taken years to materialize.
The facility, largely clad in orange and black, was an idea set in motion even before the Natrona County School District board of trustees approved construction of the steel building in November 2012. Planned construction on the high school itself meant temporary classrooms would need to be made available, so a swing space became the solution. The district discovered it would have cost more for portable classrooms than a large steel building to replace the old “Orange Dungeon” gym’s location.
Discussions then turned to what purpose the building would serve after renovations on the high school were completed. The board eventually settled on reserving it for physical education space and an indoor track.
Part of the reason a competitive indoor track facility stood out was because Casper didn’t have one. (Kelly Walsh’s basement indoor facility is not regulation size.) At the time of discussions, Casper didn’t have a competition-sized pool either.
“We discussed differences between here and Kelly Walsh,” Natrona County activities director Bryan Honken said. “The district’s planning side determined that the competition pool would be able to support our kids there, and then with the indoor track we’d be expected to host competitions here.”
Now, just like with swimming, Casper can bid to host the state indoor track meet. The only other two places that have the facilities to host the state indoor track championships are Gillette and Laramie. With that in mind, the new indoor facility will reduce transportation expenses, as well as expenditures for hotels.
But that doesn’t mean the new facility has been without its headaches. Resurfacing and track installation occurred at the beginning of the school year. Implanting the separate triple- and high-jump pits, which are covered when not in use by locking steel planks, came after. The pole vault mat didn’t arrive until the New Year and equipment for the shot put area didn’t arrive until 8 a.m. Wednesday. A scrimmaged intrasquad meet last Saturday morning gave officials an opportunity to test available equipment.
Relics of the old Mustangs Activities Complex remain in the repurposed hoops, which sit in the curtained-off basketball courts the track encircles. Collapsible stands on the east and west sides of the facility have also been recycled. Stands on the west end will remain collapsed against the wall so to not impede on long jump and pole vault areas while three sections of seating on the east side will be made available for spectator seating at the finish line. Honken said they planned to bring in portable stands for Saturday’s meet so spectators had seats for watching field events.
“There will be kids everywhere but we wanted to have space for spectators,” he said. “We’ll have some portable bleachers out here so they can sit and watch. We had spent a lot of time tweaking the design, seeing where things were going to make sure we had seating available for people to enjoy the show.”