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Schurz Field Hits Snag, Community Group Says Closing Waveland a Non-Starter

By Patty Wetli | January 30, 2015 1:27pm | Updated on February 2, 2015 8:06am
 Plans for a proposed athletic field at Schurz H.S. would close a portion of Waveland Avenue.
Plans for a proposed athletic field at Schurz H.S. would close a portion of Waveland Avenue.
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Facebook/Old Irving Park Association

IRVING PARK — A controversial proposal to build a regulation-size soccer field at Schurz High School hit a road block this week when the Old Irving Park Association, the neighborhood's influential community organization, announced its official opposition to the plan.

The major sticking point for association: Construction of the field would require the permanent closure of a portion of Waveland Avenue.

In a statement released to its membership, the association explained its decision: "No alternatives to closing Waveland Ave. will be considered" by the Take the Field Foundation, which is providing $500,000 toward the field.

"Since there is no other choice, OIPA is voicing what we believe is best for our neighborhood and residents," the statement continued. "We oppose this project as proposed."

Association members and Old Irving Park residents comprise the majority of a steering committee organized by Ald. John Arena (45th) to assess the Schurz Field proposal.

Anna Zolkowski Sobor, OIPA president, told DNAinfo Chicago that residents "don't want to come across as NIMBYs ... but closing that little stretch of Waveland will have a disproportionate effect on people who live between Milwaukee and Irving Park."

Waveland is one of only two access points off of Milwaukee into the neighborhood, which is a maze of one-way streets.

"People keep saying, 'What the hell? It's only one little street.' Come walk in our shoes," said Sobor. "The area is already pretty hard to negotiate. It's going to have an impact on a lot of people."

Despite OIPA's stance, Schurz principal Dan Kramer said he remains hopeful the field can become a reality.

"I'm going to hold onto the fact this field is still viable," he said. "There's got to be a compromise the community can support."

He noted that the association's statement left a sliver of wiggle room, objecting only to the project "as proposed."

"I am very much of the mindset that we are still looking at options," said Kramer. "I do feel that we haven't exhausted all of the different options."

The Chicago Department of Transportation has a traffic study planned for the coming months that will assess the impact closing Waveland would have on local traffic flow, he said.

If the study finds that the closure would be an "inconvenience" but not wreak total "chaos," Kramer said the question then becomes whether that inconvenience is viewed as manageable or a deal-breaker.

"The goal is not to create a field and the community interest is disregarded," he said. "Creating something the community is up in arms over is not going to happen."

The steering committee continues to investigate a host of concerns related to the field, not just the closing of Waveland, Ald. Arena said.

"There's so many moving parts ... that have to be resolved," he said, citing questions regarding field use, lighting, maintenance and parking.

The committee has only just split off into working groups designed to tackle each of the above issues, Arena said.

"So we're at the beginning of this process," he said.

Once the working groups have gathered information, the alderman said, the committee will come back to the community with answers and recommendations.

Though Waveland Avenue remains a significant bone of contention, all parties involved agreed that despite the "angst" the soccer field proposal has created in the community, it's had a silver lining as well.

"If nothing else comes out of this, people are engaged with Schurz," Arena said.

"There's a contingent of young parents that are looking at that building and they say, 'This should be an option for our kids,'" he said. "And I fully agree."

Sobor, a long-time resident of Old Irving Park, said Schurz hasn't been the school of choice for neighborhood families since the 1970s.

"All the people who want Schurz to improve, now's the time to step up and get involved," she said. "Maybe now's the time people will finally take that step to make that change."

But a soccer field isn't necessarily the change Sobor has in mind.

"Lots of schools have soccer fields," she said. "What about Schurz is unique? What can be parlayed into something people clamor for?"

At OIPA's March meeting, Sobor is planning on launching a discussion about forming a "Friends of Schurz" group, (coincidentally, an unauthorized Friends of Schurz page popped up on Facebook this week. Kramer said the page is politically motivated and he's asked CPS' legal department to investigate.)

A "Friends of" group would assist with fundraising efforts and create a sense of community ownership around the school.

"In CPS, you have to do the work from the ground up," said Sobor, whose two children have gone through the system.

Arena echoed Sobor's sentiments.

"My kids went to Bell Elementary, which has a strong Friends of," he said. Parent and community involvement, "That's the thing that's going to make Schurz a success."

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