HUMBOLDT PARK — For years, students at Roberto Clemente High School have been watching home baseball games from what one parent described as "chair bleachers," or plastic school chairs attached to a piece of wood.
"We built them as students because we wanted seats," said parent Shannon Glenn, who graduated from Clemente in 1997.
But soon, those makeshift bleachers will be a thing of the past.
Roberto Clemente Community Academy, 1147 N. Western Ave., and neighboring Wells Community Academy, 936 N. Ashland Ave., are each getting new athletic fields with a number of amenities, like new dugouts, bleachers, press boxes, scoreboards and public address systems, officials announced Wednesday.
Clemente's new field will be used for softball and baseball, while the new field at Wells will be used for soccer and baseball. Clemente is also getting an additional sodded turf for practices.
Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), whose ward includes the schools, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined Principal Marcey Sorensen in Clemente's media center Wednesday morning to share the news, which was met with excitement from parents and students.
Sorensen, who has been at the helm of Clemente for six years, said the fields will build on the school's recent accomplishments, such as achieving a 100 percent graduation rate, improving its attendance rate and the introduction of an International Baccalaureate program.
"This is a school that was on probation for 19 years. So to now be a 2+ [in CPS ratings] is just incredible," Sorensen said.
Schools are ranked from Level 1+ to Level 3, with Level 1+ being the top rating and Level 3 the lowest.
Emanuel called the field an "investment in the great athletic program" that would "complement a world-class academic program."
Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Principal Marcey Sorensen sharing the news with parents and students Wednesday. [DNAinfo/Mina Bloom]
Construction of the fields is expected to begin next spring, according to Chicago Public Schools officials. The project should be completed in a year, according to a news release.
The entire project will cost $6.5 million, using money from CPS supplemental capital, according to mayoral spokeswoman Lauren Huffman. Though Clemente's field will cost more ($3.5 million), the bigger transformation will be at Wells, where crews will be tasked with converting a concrete parking lot into an athletic field, she said.
Clemente, named after the late Puerto Rican Major League Baseball Hall of Famer and humanitarian, draws mostly low-income students from Humboldt Park and the surrounding area, according to CPS. Of the enrolled 729 students, 67 percent are Latino and 29 percent are black.
Fabian Rentas, a junior who plays on the Clemente baseball team, said the field will make a big difference.
"Coming from the situation I was in last year, traveling quite a long distance to come to this school, and then having this announced is pretty cool," said Fabian, who commutes from the Far South Side to attend Clemente.
"Academics and athletics go hand in hand when it comes to hard work," he added.
Freddie Morales, who plays shortstop at Clemente, called the old field "horrible."
"When the ball was hit to you, you were scared that the ball might hop up," Freddie said. "That's why I'm happy I've got this brand new field."
For Glenn and other Clemente parents, the new field will provide more opportunities for students to succeed.
"A lot of our kids here, even though they're great students, they might not get to where they're supposed to be," said Glenn, whose daughter plays volleyball at the school.
"But if they're doing sports and they're smart ... now that's a backup. Now you're providing something that schools really want. They want you to be a part of their school, bring some athletics, they want you to represent their school with respect and love and honor to bring future students in."
Glenn characterized the school in the '90s as "horrible, full of gangs, always fighting."
But the mother of six said the school has greatly improved in the years since she left, especially since Sorensen took the helm.
"The fact that they're investing so much time and money in Clemente getting to where other schools are in the nice neighborhoods and the suburbs, it's a blessing to my heart. I didn't think my kids would have that, and now they have that," Glenn said.
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