NORWOOD PARK — An artificial turf football field has been near the top of Taft High School's wish list for at least five years. Now district officials appear ready to turn it into reality, the school's principal said Tuesday.
Parents and teachers were thrilled to see a $3.5 million field renovation proposal land on a "secret list" of planned Chicago Public Schools capital improvements, which was unearthed by WBEZ in August. The list included new construction meant to ease overcrowding at schools across the Northwest Side, including a $30 million annex outside Prussing Elementary School, 4650 N. Menard Ave.
At a local school council meeting Tuesday night at Taft, 6530 W. Brywn Mawr Ave., principal Mark Grishaber called it "amazing" that the project had made it onto the district's docket, as school budgets continue to wither across the city.
Still, he said, the improvement is long overdue.
CPS officials "understand that we need a field," he said. "Lane Tech has a football stadium, and I have dirt. ...I've been telling them downtown, 'We're feeling like the little brothers over here, and the older brother gets all the new clothes.'"
Joe McFeely, a parent representative on the council, said he was "ecstatic" to learn that plans are in the works for a new field.
"You can see how kids can perform when they're using better facilities, and they've got the right equipment," McFeely said. "There's a safety aspect, where you don't want holes that players can trip in and twist their ankles. ... But it's also about aesthetics."
McFeely said he is optimistic Gishaber can see the project to completion. CPS funding typically follows pupils, and with 3,212 students attending class in a building meant for 2,184 pupils Taft is the most overcrowded school in the city, according to data released by Chicago Public Schools officials.
District officials had already started gesturing toward improving the field, Grishaber said. As early as last year, district engineers had stopped by to take measurements and soil samples.
And now that board members can turn their attention away from striking a deal to prevent a Chicago teachers strike, they can begin planning capital improvements in earnest, he said.
Though talks are in early stages, Grishaber said he was confident that downtown decision-makers were intent on pulling the trigger, "not just waving a carrot." The work will be done "in, hopefully, a year," he added.
Grishaber said he speaks to CPS officials about the project on a weekly basis.
"I'm sitting on my hands right now, I'm being patient," Grishaber told parents and teachers as the school's football team played against Steinmetz High School outside. "But if we don't get it, I'm going to release the bees on them. When my kids don't get exactly what they're supposed to get, I'm irate."
Officials expect enrollment at Far Northwest Side schools to slightly rise during the 2016-17 school year.
Chicago Public Schools could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
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