QUINCY — Both North Quincy High School and Quincy High stopped using the old track at Veterans Stadium in 2005, meaning that the city’s outdoor track teams have been strictly a road show ever since.
Now, after a lot of long road trips and some disappointing seasons, coach Geoff Hennessey is hoping a new state-of-the-art track will kick-start the teams again.
The $970,000, 400-meter facility nearing completion at Faxon Field adjacent to the new Quincy High School came after a six-year odyssey that saw the track’s proposed site move up and down the Southern Artery, between Pageant and Faxon fields.
The track was embroiled in legal wrangling that ended last November when Mayor Thomas Koch’s vote broke a 3-3 tie in a School Committee bitterly divided over the project.
Since 2006, the track proposal was part of multiple court hearings, appeals to the state Department of Environmental Protection, School Committee meetings, and a seemingly endless tug of war between supporters and opponents who claimed the track would worsen flooding problems in the area.
“It was a marathon,” said Hennessey.
And he should know.
The 55-year-old Hennessey coaches the cross country and track teams for both Quincy and North Quincy high schools, and also runs the Quincy Track Club, which provides programs, meets, and training for 500 Quincy middle schoolers.
Hennessey said he learned to be patient when, as a competitor at North Quincy High and then a coach, he saw the wait for a new facility in the Boston area drag on for decades until the Reggie Lewis Center was completed in 1995.
“I can remember attending a press conference in 1974 about a track that was going to be built on the old Hallet Street dump in Dorchester,” he said.
Mayoral spokesman Chris Walker said the target date for completion of the Quincy track is October. The natural turf playing field inside the track may not be ready then, and Walker said it has not been determined if the track will be open before the playing field.
He said Mayor Koch hopes opponents of the project will drop their objections and move forward now that the debate is finally over.
“We certainly hope so,” said Walker. “We’ll now have a first-class track facility the whole community can enjoy. Hopefully, those not supportive of the facility at that site can see it for its end result, a positive for the residents of Quincy.”
The Coddington Street area has become a corridor of development. The track is adjacent to the new Quincy High and across the street from the ongoing $30 million Quincy YMCA project, slated to be completed in June 2013.
Even when the city teams were competing at the former track at Veterans Stadium, the one-fifth mile surface wasn’t regulation-size and had only four lanes, making some aspects of staging meets more difficult.
When Veterans Stadium was renovated, Hennessey said, it was hoped that a regulation-size track would be part of the project. To do that, though, would mean expanding the stadium’s footprint — not an easy step in an environmentally sensitive area.
The decision was made to pursue a stand-alone track instead.
Once Veterans Stadium became unavailable, the high schools and members of the Quincy Track Club trained on a dirt track at Cavanaugh Field in North Quincy. The middle schoolers have been running meets there.
“Essentially, they were running on sand and the times were terrible,” said Hennessey, a former North Quincy High track captain who also ran for the Greater Boston Track Club. “When we would go on the road, kids would be surprised how much better their times were.”
Then there were the years the Quincy teams competed in the Old Colony League against Cape Cod-based teams such as Sandwich, Dennis-Yarmouth, and Nauset High in Orleans.
“We had two-hour bus rides each way and kids would be getting home at 9:30 p.m.,” said Hennessey. “For any serious student, that’s very difficult.”
Hennessey said that for the time being, this season the city’s two high schools are expected to compete as a cooperative entity in cross-country and track.
Molly Donahue, 14, who will attend North Quincy High as a freshman in the fall, has been a middle distance runner in the 800 and the mile for the Quincy Track Club.
“I was actually at the meeting when they approved it and I was jumping for joy, I was so excited,” she said. “It was hard to get good times at the Cavanaugh, and when I competed at the state meet, my times were always better.”
She talked to other Quincy Track Club members at her former middle school, Broad Meadows, and is convinced more students will stay with the sport because of the new track.
Hennessey also works as a track official and has seen the best high school and college tracks in the area. He says he is happiest that the track program will finally have a facility that is the equal of facilities such as Adams Field and Veterans Stadium.
“Kids want to run before their family and friends,” he said. “We’ve had kids go through middle school and then high school and never run a home meet.”
“Geoff is one of a kind,” said Walker. “We’re lucky to have him in Quincy and we’re lucky that we will finally have a facility that will be the equal of the kind of program Geoff runs.”