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Alcott College Prep Parents Rallying Community to Rebuild Playing Fields

By Paul Biasco | October 2, 2013 6:33am
 The Alcott Field of Dreams project is nearly finished with the first phase, creating an amphitheater, but is less than halfway to its $1.2 goal for the next phase of the project.
Alcott Field of Dreams
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LINCOLN PARK — A group of parents at Lincoln Park's Alcott College Prep have taken matters into their own hands to complete an unfinished Chicago Public Schools project that was abandoned more than 10 years ago.

The parents behind the Alcott Field of Dreams project have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars since 2011 to revamp the outdoor space surrounding the elementary school at 2625 N. Orchard Street.

The first phase of the three-phase project, the creation of an outdoor amphitheater, is expected to be complete within the next few weeks, according to Robin Fine, an Alcott parent who has been leading the project.

"There was gravel and dirt and soot at times, broken glass and just junk. It just took us saying, 'we need to fix this,'" Fine said. "Every day someone had some kind of bloody accident because of sliding in the gravel. It just was wrong."

The $120,000 amphitheater project was funded with the help of CPS and Ald. Michele Smith (43rd).

The next step will be the most difficult, as CPS originally agreed to cover 50 percent of the costs but has since backed out, Fine said.

The second phase of the project aims to turn the main field, which has flooding problems and is mostly unusable for sports, into a turf athletic field, a running track and basketball courts.

In 2011, CPS officials told the group behind the project that the school system would share the cost of any renovations, including the estimated $1.2 million second phase.

"In our minds we originally thought that that would be $600,000 that we would need to raise, but that quickly shifted," Fine said. "Within a month they reneged on that because of the budget situation."

CPS officials were unable to provide details on the decision.

"We thoughtfully review the merits of each proposal and gage other community stakeholders before determining appropriate next steps," CPS spokeswoman Keiana Barrett said in an emailed response.

The renovated field would be open to the public to use outside school hours, organizers said.

Because of that, the organizers behind the Field of Dreams are turning to the broader community and corporations to raise the funding.

So far, Smith has contributed $300,000 of her discretionary "menu money" to help fund the project, and the group has raised another $100,000 for the second phase.

Alicia Haruska, an Alcott parent involved in the organization, said Lincoln Park businesses have joined on to support the project.

Michael Diversey's, Kuma's Too, Rebel Conditioning, The Peasantry, Bubbles Academy and Isabel's Restaurant have all helped by hosting events or making donations.

"Sometimes you just have to do it yourself," Haruska said.

The roughly 1.2-acre field has multiple manhole covers in the grass and is dilapidated.

Fine and the rest of the organizers know that the school community won't be able to raise the $1.2 million alone, and they want the greater community to realize the benefits the park could have for the neighborhood.

The organization is looking into ways of acknowledging those who donate, such as a "buy-a-brick" program, a list of donors, plaques on an exterior wall or a giving tree, and is open to suggestions from the community.

The group is hoping to have the money raised and to start construction on the field by the summer of 2015.

"It's going to improve property values," Fine said. "This is not a private school, this is public and a public space."

No cost estimate has been set for the third phase of the project, which would be to build a new playground for kids.