EAST VILLAGE — Groundbreaking ceremonies Thursday marked the construction of athletic fields at two West Town high schools that officials say will help students not only lead healthier lives but also instill "the invaluable lesson of teamwork.”
The price tag of the fields, at Roberto Clemente Community Academy in Ukrainian Village and Wells Community Academy High School in West Town's East Village, is pegged at $6.5 million, and the amenities are scheduled to be completed by this fall.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel was joined by Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) at the early afternoon groundbreaking at Wells, 936 N. Ashland Ave., following a morning groundbreaking at Clemente, 1147 N. Western Ave.
The fields — available for use by the neighboring community — include seating for spectators, better lighting and an underground drainage system, according to a news release.
At Wells, a synthetic turf field for soccer and baseball will be installed and replace what has been called "a pitiful concrete jungle" behind the school. The $3 million project includes chain-link fencing and a netted nylon ball stopper system. The project is covered by Chicago Public Schools and money from open space impact fees funded by developers.
In front of a crowd of about 75 at Wells, including dozens of student athletes and coaches, Emanuel thanked Moreno for advocating for the project — long in the school's planning pipeline and dubbed the "Field of Hope."
"It's a field of dreams for these children. Even if the don't go play in college, what they learn here, the skills that they learn here, the character development, the counseling and advice and the nurturing that comes from a coach is so important to their development," Emanuel said.
Emanuel said he was proud of the investment in Wells, a school that he says has "a great future," based on hard work by staff and improving statistics shared by principal Rita Raichoudhuri.
"[The field] is part of an effort to make sure our city is investing in the future. It's a question mark whether Gov. Rauner will invest in that future. ... I am determined to make sure that our kids are not second class citizens, that they are treated as fairly as the kids in Winnetka, Naperville and Schaumburg," Emanuel said.
"If I were a crier, I'd have tears in my eyes," Moreno said, before thanking "local community leaders and students for their commitment in making these fields a reality.”
Matthew Perez, a senior at Wells and athlete who plays soccer, baseball and is on the track team, called the forthcoming field "amazing" after the ceremony.
"We were practicing [soccer] on concrete. It will be great to get used to playing on a field that's not concrete. With bumps and cracks [in the concrete] the ball hits it and goes all different ways. It was a bummer to go far away to Smith Park [in West Town], that was our home field. Now we will have one behind our school," Perez said.
The field at Clemente, estimated to cost $3.5 million, mostly will be used for softball and baseball and feature synthetic and sodded turf. New dugouts, a press box, scoreboard and backstop will be included, paid for with funds from the capital improvement tax set aside from the 2015 property tax increase.
"These fields will help our students lead healthy, active lives while providing experiences that will instill the invaluable lesson of teamwork,” Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool said in a prepared statement.
Rendering of the Wells' field. [Provided]
Rendering of the Clemente field. [Provided]