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Post-Tension Concrete for Running Tracks

By Luke Carothers

Post-tension concrete is becoming an increasingly popular option within athletic facilities, particularly at the K-12 level.  Certainly, post-tension concrete is not a new option in the scope of athletic facilities–to prevent cracking on surfaces such as tennis courts and to ensure a longer life cycle– as it has long been used in the United States’ western regions.  However, its popularity is growing, and new post-tension concrete facilities are being built throughout the United States.  A major part of this growth in popularity is the development of its use as a surface for running tracks.

When used in an athletic facility such as a running track, post-tension concrete provides several significant advantages when compared to surfaces like asphalt.  In the long run, the decision to use post-tension concrete over asphalt means spending less money and time on repairs.  A track constructed of post-tension concrete is likely to last 25-years without noticeable damage, and the installation process removes the need to fill cracks before resurfacing.  Furthermore, because these slabs are in a constant state of compression, these facilities remain stable during extreme weather fluctuations.  From an athletic performance standpoint, post-tension concrete running tracks also provide several physical benefits.  Post-tension concrete running tracks can feature a polyurethane force reduction layer, which absorbs shock and helps reduce body fatigue, speeds recovery, and lessens pressure on joints without sacrificing performance.  Furthermore, post-tension concrete tracks avoid issues like pooling water and cracks, which form from irregularities and can cause issues with athlete safety.  

Earlier this year, the first post-tension concrete running track in the state of Indiana was constructed for Wes Del Schools in Gaston, Indiana.  This groundbreaking project was led by Schmidt Associates who has completed several post-tension concrete projects throughout the state primarily for tennis courts.  Allen Jacobsen points out that, while the use of post-tension concrete for tennis courts has been a viable option for several years in Indiana, the running track for Wes Del Schools represents a potentially significant shift in the market for post-tension projects.  Jacobsen, an Associate at Schmidt Associates, has more than twenty years of engineering experience and has worked on a variety of athletic projects for schools.

Photo Credits: Al Ensley with Al Ensley Photography

Schmidt Associates was approached by Wes Del Schools after several issues with high ground water, cracking, and soil conditions.  The previous facility consisted of a six-lane asphalt running track that had a consistent history of problems stemming from these root causes.  Bob Ross is a Project Manager and Civil Engineer for Schmidt Associates, and was a part of the team that was tasked with completing the Wes Del post-tension track project.  Ross describes the track as previously being in “terrible shape.”  The need to upgrade the facility was certain, but the district had trouble in securing an adequate solution.  It was clear that these problems extended beyond resurfacing the track and necessitated its complete rebuilding.  Ross says that, after talking with Wes Del Schools and discussing the available options, the decision was made to build the new track using post-tension concrete.  

Several factors ultimately contributed to the decision to use post-tension concrete for the project such as soil condition and the inability to place joints to accommodate for eventual cracking.  Ross points out that the decision to use post-tension concrete on the project had to account for the higher up-front costs that came with it. Ross points out that this is offset by maintenance cost savings when it eventually comes time to replace resurface, needing only to change the track’s wearing surface.  On an asphalt running track, this substrate work usually needs to be completed every time it is resurfaced, leading to higher costs in the long run.

Jacobsen says that the high upfront cost of post-tension concrete is an understandable concern when talking to clients about it as an option.  As schools in Indiana and elsewhere look for opportunities to wisely invest in the future of their children and communities, the option of a post-tension concrete running track represents a long-term solution to a commonly held problem.  If districts and schools are able to overcome the initial costs of installing a post-tension concrete track, they will be able to provide a safe and durable surface for their athletes to perform at their highest level for years to come, and will eliminate long term maintenance costs associated with alternatives like concrete.