LINCOLN PARK — The iconic baseball film "Field of Dreams" this month celebrated its 25th anniversary with events at the Iowa site where magic things happened.
Lincoln Park's own Field of Dreams is still in the future, but neighborhood organizers are celebrating their own successes as their efforts to transform the often rocky or flooded field outside Alcott Elementary School into playable athletic fields has recently seen some notable successes.
In the 1989 film, Kevin Costner plows under his corn field in a matter of days to create his baseball diamond. In Lincoln Park, it's been more than three years since a group of parents at the school set out to transform the beaten-up field and outdoor space surrounding the school.
Paul Biasco has never seen the popular Kevin Costner film, but he details the Lincoln Park project:
The current phase of the project seeks to construct an artificial turf athletic field with a baseball field surrounded by a running track outside the school, 2625 N. Orchard St. A preliminary quote estimated the project would cost about $850,000. The group expects to receive a new estimate soon, but is hoping to raise $1 million for the project.
Parents behind the Field of Dreams project have been raising the funds steadily in chunks. Most recently State Farm's Neighborhood Assist granted the group $25,000 to improve the field. A private donor from the neighborhood who doesn't have any children at the school pitched in an additional $25,000. A third annual walk-a-thon raised $38,000.
"I feel like the momentum is with us," said Robin Fine, an Alcott parent who is leading the project.
Aside from the roughly $170,000 the group has raised privately, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) has pledged some of her "menu money" toward the project. In the past, Smith pledged $300,000 toward the project, but this week said she is considering a greater amount if necessary.
"We are working very hard and the community is working very hard," Smith said. "We are doing everything we can to help this project along and we really hope the community does."
The field in question has drainage issues and often floods despite four metal sewers located in the grass.
When it does flood, children at the school have indoor recess.
When it isn't flooded, the field is rocky, uneven and dangerous, according to parents.
One child broke his ankle this past school year and the local Oz Park Baseball Association deemed the field unsafe for teams to practice or play on for the 2014 season.
The league, which is often short on field space, had used the field in previous years.
The group has compiled an injury report in an appeal to Chicago Public Schools to fix up the field and eventually replace the playground equipment with more age-appropriate equipment for young students, the third phase of the project.
"It really can't be used," Smith said. "It's not safe. It's got big drains in the middle of it. It's just not a safe structure."
The field is Chicago Public Schools land, but the cash-strapped school district has denied funds to repair the field the past three years.
The Field of Dreams organization is optimistic about two grants that they are in the process of applying for that would set them over the fundraising top: the Cubs Charities new "Diamond Project" project that seeks to improve baseball fields in Chicago's neighborhoods, and an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency program would provide $750,000 to improve drainage in the field.
Jenni Moore, whose daughter just finished kindergarten at Alcott, is heading up the Cubs' grant process.
"I think it's going to be really amazing for the community to have that much green space available in that area of the city," she said. "It's such a huge field that's really not being utilized right now."
The Field of Dreams group completed the first phase of the project in October when they opened a wooden amphitheater in the school yard.
The $120,000 amphitheater had previously been covered with gravel, dirt and rubble from an unfinished Chicago Public Schools project that was abandoned more than 10 years ago.
"It is all about the community and this is going to transform our neighborhood," Fine said. "We aren't going to count out chickens yet, but I'm feeling really hopeful."