BELMONT CRAGIN — Jeffrey Bernstein is fed up with the condition of the athletic fields at Foreman High School in Belmont Cragin: The ground is uneven, the grass is patchy and overgrown, and the surrounding track is severely cracked.
Now, with the students and faculty behind him, Bernstein, the school’s athletic director, is pushing for something to be done about it.
On Tuesday, the school at 3235 N. Leclaire Ave. will unveil the “Raise the Turf” campaign, a grassroots effort to raise about $3.65 million for a total rehabilitation of the field. He and his colleagues have drawn up plans not only to repave the track and replace the grass field with turf, but also to bring in bleachers and a concession stand for games.
“We have 21 sports teams, and coaches have been coming to me furious because the field and track are really beat up, verging on unsafe,” Bernstein said. “Our soccer team made eighth in state last year, and you’ve got to wonder how much better they could have done if they’d had a proper field to practice on.”
In the wake of another round of major CPS budget cuts and no major school construction projects planned, the advocates behind “Raise the Turf” aren’t holding their breath for serious contributions from the district. Instead, Bernstein said, they’ll be firing on all cylinders in search of “corporate, political and community contributions.”
Also Tuesday, Foreman students will appear at the Mikva Action Civics Showcase at the Chicago Cultural Center before business and political leaders, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in search of support.
The students got involved through a project in a class taught by Foreman civics teacher Doug North.
"The students created a survey and a petition to pass out to members of the community to round up public support," North said. "They interviewed other schools that have turf fields to talk about how viable it would be, and to get more perspectives on what the new field would bring."
Students have also reached out to incoming Ald. Milagros “Milly” Santiago (31st), whom they’ve invited to the Tuesday announcement.
“We want [Santiago] to understand that it isn’t just the field that would benefit — the community would benefit, too,” said Foreman senior Cristian Bahena, one of a handful of students helping put together the “Raise the Turf” campaign. “It would be a safe place where kids could come try new things. ... There aren’t many places around here where kids can just come and play sports."
Santiago couldn't be reached for comment.
CPS officials said the school is taking the lead on the project.
"Foreman High School officials reached out to the CPS Facilities Department seeking guidance on the development of a potential athletic field and running track," the district said in a statement. "The potential project would be funded through school-level fundraising, and the Facilities Office has only been consulted to evaluate aspects of the field's design."
Bahena, 18, plays soccer at Foreman and said the field is in no condition for competitive sports.
“At first when I started going here the field was a little rough, but we played anyway,” Bahena said. “Since then it’s gotten worse and worse, and now it’s basically a dirt field.”
The school has already drawn up plans for a three-phase construction project that, while pricey, Bernstein said would be a “moneymaker” in the long run.
“Turf only costs a couple thousand dollars a year to maintain, where grass is like $40,000 with all the landscaping it takes,” Bernstein said. “And if we get a concession stand up for Friday night football games, we could make $1,000 in a single night.”
Friday night football, Bernstein said, is a tradition that students and parents at Foreman are aching for. Without lights or bleachers, the football team has to play home games at nearby Hanson Stadium.
By meeting from the outset with officials from the CPS Department of Facilities, Bernstein is hoping Foreman can avoid the pitfalls of past campaigns for field renovations at Schurz and Wells High School. Technical roadblocks have dogged proposals for turf fields at both schools.
“If we can raise the money and we’re working with CPS all the way, there’s no reason we can’t get this done in 12-18 months,” Bernstein said.
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