Neighbors furious over proposed field

By Mariel Turner

Map of the potentially affected areas due to the field expansion.
Map of the potentially affected areas due to the field expansion.

A proposal to close off Waveland Avenue for a new soccer field at Carl Schurz High School left many Irving Park residents upset on Wednesday.

The $1.5 million project, which would feature a new soccer field and a possible tennis court or playground, would expand the current athletic field to 300 feet long and 195 feet wide. The removal of part of Waveland, a two-lane street with parking, is necessary for the field to meet these Illinois High School Association standards, school officials said. These standards must be met to play IHSA games there.

The traffic issues and environmental repercussions that may arise from the expansion angered many of the nearly 100 residents who attended a public meeting Wednesday.

“My concern is the bus traffic,” Pat Timion, a resident who lives just off Waveland Avenue, said after the meeting. “They’re going to bring all these buses and all this major traffic right down to the residential neighborhood. It’s a big concern.”

“The neighborhood was completely caught off guard so there is animosity,” said Amber Daboul, a long-time resident whose apartment overlooks school grounds. “The primary concern for me is the AstroTurf and the taking of the trees. It seems like it’s already a done deal.”

Ald. John Arena of the 45th Ward said at the meeting he is open to the expansion, but wants to make sure the community is supportive and aware of the benefits of a new field. He announced plans to form a committee of residents to meet with him on the matter.

“There are a lot of aspects to be concerned about,” said Arena. “Public safety is first and foremost. We have to make sure police and fire can get to our homes if there is an incident. We have to make sure, you can get to your homes, just coming and going from work. All of this is in the conceptual phase.”

The current practice field is bordered by Milwaukee Avenue on the southwest, Waveland Avenue on the southeast, Lowell Avenue on the east, Kostner Avenue on the northwest, and single-family homes on the north. The project has received a pledge of more than a half-million dollars in funding from the Take the Field initiative, a program backed by the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation.

“We had to identify the preliminary funding. The good news is … half-a-million dollars of it will come from private funding,” Arena said.

“Use of the TIF money towards reconstruction projects that can help improve our property values, is a good return on an investment. It’s in our interest to have the school, a landmark like this, maintained. It’s in our interest to invest in our own infrastructure.” Tax increment financing funds would supplement the Pritzker Traubert money

Proponents of the expansion and school officials say the benefits, including reducing the school’s transportation expenses by $30,000 and providing a safer athletic option for Schurz students, outweigh the problems. Schurz students have to walk eight blocks to practice at Kilmer Park and play many of their home games at other schools, which requires buses.

“How do we create experiences for our kids that create memories that last a lifetime?” said Daniel Kramer, principal of Schurz High School. “Athletics is a great way to do that. Our students have the right to the same resources you see in schools in their suburban counterparts. And not only do they have the right to those resources, I’m very convinced that our children deserve it and earned it.”

Resident Sara Melzer-Higher agreed, saying a new field would “improve the overall image of the community and the school.

“A little bit of inconvenience is worth providing kids’ access to sports facilities equal to other areas,” she said.

The Chicago Park District is in talks with project officials about taking over management and maintenance of the field. Community residents would have access to the field outside of school hours, but there are no current plans to rent the field to adult leagues.