Taft HS athletic field plan praised despite concerns
by BRIAN NADIG
The plan to install an outdoor athletic complex at Taft High School was widely praised at a July 17 community meeting, but several nearby homeowners expressed concerns that it would create parking, noise and garbage problems in the neighborhood.
"We have a competitive disadvantage," boys’ varsity lacrosse coach Rich Zei said in reference to the poor condition of Taft’s existing sports field. "For us to be competitive in any outdoor sport, we need this … This is what puts us over the top."
The $3.5 million complex will include a synthetic field with a permeable surface, 15-foot-tall spectator stands for 1,200, four 80-foot-tall light poles, a press box, a public address system, a scoreboard with digital messaging and a water fountain. The field, which is scheduled to be installed by mid-November, will accommodate football, soccer and lacrosse, and the project also includes four new tennis courts.
Varsity football coach John Tsarouchas, a 2002 Taft graduate, said that the sports complex is the school’s first significant outdoor improvement in 30 years and that he wishes he had the opportunity to play home games on Taft’s campus when he was on the football team.
"This is a dream come true for me," he said.
Taft principal Mark Grishaber said that Taft had to play a homecoming football game against Lane Tech High School at Lane because Taft lacks the proper facilities. "We have a dirt field out there," he said. "Is that right that Taft has to play a (home game) at a competitor’s stadium?"
Several residents said that the community was not consulted on including spectator stands and a public address system in the project.
"I’m not opposed to resurfacing the field," said Dan Walsh, a 1999 Taft graduate. "I am opposed to a 1,200-person stadium across from my home."
Others residents said that more parking is needed to accommodate the new facility and that there needs to be plans in place for security, traffic flow and garbage pickup.
"Who’s going to buy my house with that right in the back of it?" Joe McFeely said.
Before the meeting, McFeely said that "there is not one neighbor opposed" to Taft getting a turf field, but that residents were caught off guard with the scope of the project and are disappointed that adjacent property owners did not have input during the planning process. He added that it appears to be too late for changes to the plan.
"There is not going to be games every night of the week. I’m
cognizant of the neighborhood," Grishaber said. The school will make sure that the community gets advance notice of the schedule for the field, and efforts are being made to have security cameras installed around the field, he said.
In addition, several coaches pledged to have their players participate in community cleanups near the school.
Grishaber said that he informed the community about the athletic complex via Twitter within 24 hours of him being notified of the funding allocation. He said that in the past 2 years several other proposals, including one in which an Irish football league would have had the field built, have not materialized and that he waited until he received final confirmation from the school system.
The school system had an agreement with the Irish football league, but five days prior to the planned signing of the documents Forrest Claypool resigned as Chicago Public Schools’ chief executive officer, and the plan then stalled, according to a league member.
The league was planning to use the field for games on Sundays and for practices on weekday evenings after the school was done using the field.