Denby Fawcett: Looking For A Running Track To Exercise? Good Luck - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Personal safety is one reason people prefer to use school tracks, but also the reason they are being closed.

One by one, Hawaii’s school running tracks are getting fenced off and locked so members of the public can no longer use them for recreation and exercise.

I am not blaming the schools for what is happening; they have many reasons for closing their tracks, understandable reasons.

My intention here is to discuss how closing school tracks is another example of how the public is increasingly shut out of facilities and how it affects residents’ well-being.

Kenneth Wagner gets out of bed in the dark on most mornings to drive from his Makiki home to Kalani High School in Waialae.

On weekends, he runs 8 miles on Kalani’s dirt and cinder track. He also runs at the school’s track on many weekdays at 4 a.m. to fit in a run before work.

Wagner drives to Kalani because where he used to run — Roosevelt High School’s track near his home — is locked and off limits to non-student walkers and runners.  

Vance Roley, the dean of the Shidler College of Business at the University of Hawaii is another regular on the Kalani High School track, arriving every morning at around 6 a.m. to get in 30 minutes of running before he heads to his office on the Manoa campus.

Kalani remains one of the few school tracks on Oahu still open to the public for exercise when students are not on the track or when school is closed on Sundays.

Kenneth Wagner runs on Kalani High School’s track, but the facility will soon be closed to the public once it upgrades to a rubberized track. (Denby Fawcett/Civil Beat/2023)

It is not just public schools that have locked off their tracks but also private schools’ tracks including Punahou where my friends and I once trained for our races. Iolani School’s track, on whose lanes we did speed work, is also closed to the public except for prearranged charity events.

Principal Mitchell Otani said the track at Kalani High School will soon join the ranks of many school tracks closed to public exercisers when Kalani begins its $7 million project to replace the grass athletic field with artificial turf and upgrade its old dirt running lanes to a rubberized track. 

As part of the project, the contractor will fence Kalani’s new field and track and install gates that can be locked when students are not using the facilities.  

When I emailed Roley at UH the news about the track’s impending closure, he said, “This is very disappointing. I have heard rumors about this for years. I try to run on the track every morning before school starts.”

Roley says he has been using the track at Kalani for a decade.

“Before that, I ran on the sidewalks and streets in Kahala. I would fall once each year on the cement, causing a variety of injuries. The last time I ran in Kahala I fell and blew up my collarbone. I have a titanium plate in my shoulder as a result. I don’t fall on the Kalani High School track.”

Schools changing over to rubberized tracks such as Roosevelt and McKinley High School now have similar new fences and secured gates both to beef up school security and to prevent the expensive new tracks from being worn down from overuse.

“If everyone is using the track, the wear and tear will kill it. The bottom line is to keep the track in good shape for as long as you can,” said Otani.

The average life of a rubberized track is 7 to 10 years.

Hawaii’s schools also welcome the locked gates as another way to keep students safe in today’s era of school shootings, abductions and other security concerns.

Otani who graduated from Kalani High himself in 1972 said in his days as a student there he always felt safe. “We never worried about such things, but now the schools are very, very concerned about security. I know the public wants to use the field and track but safety trumps everything in today’s society.”

McKinley High School’s running track is only open when a staff member can be present due to liability issues. (Denby Fawcett/Civil Beat/2023)

McKinley High School allows members of the public to use its field and rubberized track but only if someone from its athletic staff is present. So that precludes using the track after school hours and on Sundays.

“The whole thing is about liability. We need someone from the school to be there to watch who is using the field and track,” said McKinley’s principal Ron Okamura.                  

The state Department of Education lists a number of mishaps that could happen if school personnel are absent when members of the public use school fields and tracks.

“Unauthorized activities can occur that can damage the surfaces, such as people golfing, riding motorized vehicles, allowing pets to relieve themselves, climbing on equipment, barbecuing, launching fireworks and model rockets, and many others,” said DOE spokesman Derek Inoshita.  

In a previous email, Inoshita highlighted DOE’s overriding concern about student safety if strangers on campus are not properly monitored.

Interestingly, personal safety is one of the key reasons many people like to use school tracks.

Sheri Berasis, an office assistant at Aiea High School, said the school’s track — once open to the public — was heavily used by nearby neighborhood residents in the early mornings before school opened.

“We had senior citizens who would come as early as 4 in the morning. I feel sorry for them now. There are not many sidewalks for them to walk on in Aiea,” said Berasis.

Alia Pan trains at sunrise on Kalani High School track, one of the few running tracks still open to the public, but not for much longer. (Denby Fawcett/Civil Beat/2023)

My friend Lorie Young, a dedicated long-distance runner who has done 34 Honolulu Marathons, said she liked to do speed training on the Aiea High School track.

“It is close to my home and it was safe to be on the track, not having to dodge cars and traffic,” she said.

Roley says he is considering other places to run now that Kalani’s track will soon be off limits to the public.

His options include Kalani Iki Neighborhood Park, but he says it has safety issues.  

“I have run there before when school was in session at Kalani. The park has some potholes and muddy areas. I have missed the potholes so far, but it will be more challenging in the early morning when it is dark. I don’t need another fall,” he said.

Of course, recreational walkers and runners now kept off school tracks can always resort to treadmills, but that is a joyless kind of exercise minus the pleasure of being outdoors on a track watching the sun rise or set. And making new friends.

“Another plus is the principal and teachers I sometimes talk with at Kalani are really nice,” said Roley.

Read this next:

The Sunshine Blog: Candy Coated Opposition, Bills Hitting The Gov's Desk, A Different Kind Of Term Limits

Local reporting when you need it most

Support timely, accurate, independent journalism.

Honolulu Civil Beat is a nonprofit organization, and your donation helps us produce local reporting that serves all of Hawaii.


About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Latest Comments (0)

The tracks should be open to all. Not only are they publicly funded, but schools are part of a larger neighborhood and provide wellness, recreation and are part of the fabric, people like to talk about. Schools are supposed to have security, maintenance and other staff around and if gated they should be opened early before school and closed at an appropriate hour after, simply for safety as people can't or shouldn't run in the dark. That is reasonable.

wailani1961 · 6 months ago

As much as I miss open access to tracks, we are NOT entitled to use them just because we're taxpayers. Our tax dollars go toward the school which is ultimately for the benefit of the students, not us. Someone falls, gets injured, sues the school...then what?

ndhwn · 6 months ago

I have wanted to run on the McKinley track. I frankly don't care that it has a special surface and artificial turf. I pay taxes and I think I should have access, in a respectful manner to use these tracks. I don't think I should have to wait around to be "supervised". Also, these artificial surfaces will prove to be a mistake, but as normal, Hawaii has to do it last even though others already know it is a bad idea, then have it fail, then cost more to get back to how it should be: real grass and real dirt. If you want to support your people, make a safe way for them to exercise.

Mememalia · 6 months ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.