BELMONT CRAGIN — Students at Steinmetz College Prep High School, 3030 N. Mobile Ave., are being sent on summer break with the promise of a new running track and turf sports fields by summer 2018.
Flanked by city education officials, school leaders and 36th Ward Ald. Gilbert Villegas, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on Monday that the $4.5 million facility would make the school a "24/7 activity center for everyone in the neighborhood."
"We don't want Steinmetz just to be 8 [a.m.] to 3:30 [p.m.]," Emanuel said. "We want it to be all year round ... to make it a community center where kids, parents, adults, other relatives, multiple generations can come together in strengthening our kids."
A synthetic turf football field, baseball field and softball field will replace the school's grass field and concrete-rimmed track, along with a running track made with "high-performance overlay," officials said.
The announcement rounded out a suite of new construction projects already planned at multiple Northwest Side schools this year, including new turf fields at Schurz High School, 3601 N. Milwaukee Ave., and Farnsworth Elementary School, 5414 N. Linder Ave.
Officials also announced an expansion of Steinmetz's partnership with Robert Morris University, which began offering dual-enrollment courses and college readiness seminars at the school last year. The university also launched a "college awareness day" at nearby elementary schools and opened a continuing education program for parents, officials said.
Neighbors, teachers and parents had lobbied district leaders for the new programs and facilities going back at least three years, according to Vanessa Valentin, president of the school's local school council.
"When you work on something so hard with the community speaking to you, when you see that the needs of the community have to be met, this is our motivation," Valentin said. "For our students, this is for you. Because our community schools deserve what other schools get."
Steinmetz has seen its enrollment drop by nearly 25 percent since 2012, forcing administrators to lay off teachers and cut programs year after year. Last year, Principal Stephen Ngo was forced to lay off 12 staff members, including the school's only librarian, he said.
Some parents have said they fear the population decline could accelerate, after this year's announcement of a school to be built inside Steinmetz's attendance boundary in the Dunning neighborhood. District officials haven't landed on a use for the 1,300-student school set to be completed in 2019, but they've suggested a plan to open it as a freshman campus for the overcrowded Taft High School, 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.
Villegas has tried to direct resources toward the school since his election in 2015, he said, adding that the community needs to "get better at marketing" to attract more students. More than 850 freshmen who live in Steinmetz's boundaries studied elsewhere this year, according CPS data.
The alderman had set aside $100,000 for the field from his ward's first round of participatory budgeting in 2016, and CPS followed up by including the multimillion dollar project in its 2017 school improvement budget, officials said.
Steinmetz's grass field is surrounded by a dirt track with concrete siding. [DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin]