It’s been torn apart, driven over, cordoned off and left to lie in its own shallow grave and perhaps now begins the final chapter in the fabled reconstruction of the athletics track at University College Dublin (UCD).
“Protective” work is being carried out on the new site, permitted under legislation even while most construction is on hold during Level 5, with a view to recommencing the project once those full restrictions are lifted, possibly next month. The then scheduled date for completion is September, one year later than planned, and coming up on 10 years since the original track was suddenly closed in November 2011 due to “health and safety concerns”, such was the deterioration of the running and jumping surface.
It’s also now over three years since an anonymous donation of €3 million was given to UCD in January 2018 for the sole purpose of building the new track and maintaining it for the next 20 years – essentially taking the project off life support when it seemed destined to die a slow death.
Such was the affection for the original track, the €3 million donation wasn’t entirely surprising, and while the identity of the philanthropist is still unknown the process of naming the new track is also underway.
In the meantime, UCD media relations have confirmed that the protective work on the new site is being carried out, in line with the legislation, and “as soon as construction is allowed to recommence, there is clear schedule and end-date” provided there isn’t any further restrictions around Covid-19 that may again halt the final construction process.
The actually laying of the track would be a summer project anyway, given it is weather-dependent. In November 2019, UCD estate services first confirmed that construction on the new track was scheduled to commence from that December, “delivering a world-class athletics facility for the UCD community comprising of an eight-lane 400m synthetic track and a grass infield area suitable for athletics and multiple field sports”.
Just over three months into that initial process, Covid-19 first stalled the project entirely; some continuation work was carried later in 2020 before it was stalled again at the beginning of this year.
UCD has also published an artist’s impression of the new track: the site, which comprises of c. 3.73 hectares on lands located at the sports precinct of UCD, at the Richview/Clonskeagh end of the campus, will also feature “track training lighting (up to 18m high)” and “conduit to allow for electronic timing and scoring to the infield”.
It’s also been recommended to use the double-rubber track foundation, more suitable to training and long-term use, rather than the Mondo brand favoured by the more strictly competitive tracks.
That original track, at the Belfield end of the campus, was also built to last and in fairness it did: first opened in June 1977, it was the first tartan running track in the Republic. After that original track closed, the cost of rebuilding a new one was estimated to be around €1.6 million, “subject to funding becoming available”, and not long after that the track was partially ripped up to serve as a student and staff car park; now some 10 years later that work recommences.
The Clonskeagh location also fits with the now “sporting end” of UCD, on that west side of the campus where Leinster Rugby also have their training pitches, and next to the Olympic-size swimming pool. The absence of an athletics track had been a particularly sore point, however, UCD having the largest student body in Ireland, some 32,000 people in all.
Dominic O’Keeffe, UCD’s director of student services and facilities, previously described the new track as a “legacy project”, adding: “We don’t build too many tracks in Ireland, so part of the challenge is getting it absolutely right.”