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Pritzker Field Could Cost As Much As $3 Million, Parents Vow To Raise Cash

By Alisa Hauser | May 15, 2017 2:05pm
 Images from a public meeting on May 13 at A.N. Pritzker School to discuss a proposed play field and a strategy for how to pay for it.
Play on Pritzker Public Meeting
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WICKER PARK — A plan to build a public play field and running track behind Wicker Park's A.N. Pritzker School could cost up to $3 million — and determined parents say they've already raised just under $100,000.

At a community meeting in the school's auditorium on Saturday, Lindsay Gaskins, president of Friends of Pritzker, a parent-led fundraising group, said the group hopes to tap into several funding sources, including reaching out to private philanthropists and corporate sponsors such as Nike and the Cubs.

"Offering naming rights [to corporate funders] is an option," Gaskins said, while encouraging any of the 50 or so meeting attendees, mostly parents, to tap into their social networks.

 Renderings of a proposed play and ball field behind Pritzker School.
A.N. Pritzker School Proposed Outdoor Expansion
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Gaskins said the parent group has raised just under $100,000 for the project, with a goal of raising $250,000 by next summer when the construction of the 41,000-square-foot field and track, to be located behind the school, 2009 N. Damen Ave., would begin.

Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) pledged to allocate "menu money" to the project as well.

"The plans are fantastic," Moreno said of the conceptual renderings of the field by Burhani Design Architects.

Each Chicago aldermen gets $1.3 million every year to spend as he or she sees fit to fix up roads, sidewalks or fund other projects designed to spruce up their wards.

Moreno could not estimate what he would pledge, but said that he is prepared "to allocate three or four times the amount" of what parents have raised so far. 

Shabbir Chandabhai, a Pritzker parent who is also the owner of Burhani Design Architects, has proposed the schoolyard plan to replace Pritzker's existing asphalt play lot with a turf field (for soccer, kickball, softball, etc.), playground, basketball and four-square courts, and a running track.

Chandabhai said that the school's running club uses local sidewalks.

"It's inefficient and dangerous that the running club is using sidewalks and running past alleys," Chandabhai told the crowd.

Chandabhai said the uncovered asphalt play lot used by the students gets "very hot" in the warmer months, is not inviting and causes injuries such as scraped knees.

"I keep Band-Aids in my car," Chandabhai said, as parents chuckled. 

The rough estimate to build the field as well as conduct environmental remediation prior to construction is between $1.5 million and $3 million, Chandabhai said.

Representatives from CPS were not at the meeting, and a CPS spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on whether the cash-strapped district plans to contribute money to the project.

The top-rated neighborhood school, which also houses a regional gifted program and fine-arts academy, serves 749 students in pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade, according to Pritzker principal Joenile Albert-Reese, who has led the school for 12 years.

"It is my hope that [CPS] has some money in the capital improvement fund that they can spare some for this, in the best interest of the children," Albert-Reese said. She added, "I can't wait to see it realized. This vision [to improve playground] is why Friends of Pritzker was originally formed."

Over the years, there have been other attempts to improve the playground, and while money raised by Friends of Pritzker has gone to the construction of an edible garden tended by students and an amphitheater, there has not been no large scale transformation of the huge back lot.

In the past four years, Gaskins said Friends of Pritzker raised $192,000 to complete several projects, such as adding a new sound system in the auditorium, an art room, a computer lab and library.

Named for A.N. Pritzker, who graduated from the school in the early 1900s when it was then called Wicker Park School, the school was renamed to A.N. Pritzker School on Jan. 6, 1986, on the philanthropist's birthday, to recognize his contributions to the school, according to a plaque in the entry way of the school.

Chandabhai said that the Pritzker family foundation is "aware of the project" and are among the private groups the school's parents hope will be able to contribute.

Barbara Watt, a Pritzker parent and one of 10 members of Friends of Pritzker's outdoor renovation committee, said she is "super excited" about the project.

"The transformation from an asphalt island to a vibrant, attractive, and safe playground, it's what we deserve and what the community can make good use of," Watt said.

Christina Oyola, a parent of a Pritzker 7th grader, said her son joked that he wouldn't mind being held back a grade if it meant getting a chance to play on the field.

"He said if they do the renovation after he graduates, he's going to find a way to stay," Oyola said.