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Editorial

Reggie Lewis Center needs a new direction

Peabody distance runner Marcelo Rocha (558), far left, lapped the slower runners in winning the boys two mile run during the Division 1 State Indoor Track Championships at the Reggie Lewis Center,  Feb. 14.
Peabody distance runner Marcelo Rocha (558), far left, lapped the slower runners in winning the boys two mile run during the Division 1 State Indoor Track Championships at the Reggie Lewis Center, Feb. 14.(Robert F. Klein for The Boston Globe)

State taxpayers entrusted the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury to Roxbury Community College when the track opened in 1995, but circumstances seem to have changed since then. With questions swirling about the management of the facility, it’s a good time to revisit its basic governance structure. State lawmakers are crafting legislation to transfer the track’s management to the University of Massachusetts or some other state entity, and it’s a move that looks increasingly worth considering.

The track itself is a gem: It holds statewide track meets and has even hosted the USA Indoor Track and Field Championships. It brings world-class athletes to Boston and gives Massachusetts student athletes a world-class facility. There’s no doubt that “the Reggie” has been a remarkable success. In a mark of its popularity, when the facility celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, generous donors raised $120,000 to fund upkeep.

Track coaches credit much of that success to Keith McDermott, the longtime director who was fired, with no explanation, in September. Whether or not McDermott’s firing was justified, the lack of transparency around his departure sparked an uproar in the track and field world and caused some coaches to question RCC’s commitment to keeping the center a statewide facility — a charge that RCC president Valerie Roberson flatly denies.

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In a controversy that may be related, questions have emerged about the $120,000 raised from donors, which is being held by a private foundation associated with RCC. The college asked state auditor Suzanne Bump to look into the foundation and the center. On Thursday, Bump’s office told the college that its concerns “go beyond simple mismanagement and involve alleged criminal activity.” The state attorney general’s office is now reviewing the matter, though it’s unclear exactly what criminal activity, if any, the case could involve.

As those inquiries continue, the larger question is who will run the track in the future. Roxbury Community College wants to maintain control. But coaches in Massachusetts, troubled by what they view as inadequate support from the college, including slow progress on renovations and the firing of McDermott, have asked the state to transfer it to a different branch of state government.

Running a top-rate track facility for the entire state isn’t central to the mission of Roxbury Community College, and it does appear that the track has become something of a distraction. The Lewis Center itself isn’t going anywhere, and will remain part of the Roxbury community whichever agency manages it. The community is owed a full explanation for why McDermott was fired, what happened to the $120,000, and whether RCC is still the best custodian of a track that has become a cherished community institution.

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