The Park District of Oak Park and Oak Park Elementary School District 97 are partnering to have a synthetic turf athletic field installed at both Percy Julian Middle School and Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School.
Contributions from park district affiliates Oak Park AYSO, Oak Park Youth Baseball & Softball and the Chicago Edge Soccer Club as well as the Good Heart/Work Smart Foundation that totaled $250,000 satisfied the remaining financial need to make the addition of the two all-weather fields possible.
Irving School and Ridgeland Common are the other synthetic turf fields in Oak Park.
“We’re so happy how the community came together to make this happen,” said Jan Arnold, the park district’s executive director. “Two government entities, three youth sports and a private foundation worked together to make this a reality.
“This is a great community initiative which will provide more quality fields for children and the community. It increases opportunities for outside activity through physical education components and sports as well. The additions of Julian and Brooks complete the park district’s plan for synthetic turf athletic fields.”
Based largely on a 2013 athletic fields study, the park district believed it would in the best interests of the community to have three synthetic turf athletic fields. The park district targeted Stevenson Park as the third park. However, the idea was nixed by the village due to concerns about installing artificial turf above a water reservoir.
When the park district proposed the idea of Julian Middle School as an alternative site for the third synthetic turf field, D97 board members welcomed the offer but expressed a need to have a synthetic turf field also installed at Brooks to address the issue of equity.
“The park district had money committed to install a synthetic turf field Stevenson initially,” Arnold said. “That money then became allocated for Julian, but we didn’t have any extra money just laying around. So [District 97 Superintendent] Dr. [Al] Roberts and I started talking and D97 looked at its budget to see what could be done.”
To have a synthetic turf field installed at Brooks, D97 appropriated $300,000 dollars. AYSO ($125,000), Edge soccer ($25,000) and OPYBS ($10,000) also contributed to the cause. The Good Heart/Work Smart Foundation provided the remaining balance of $90,000 to make the second field economically feasible.
“Dr. Roberts and I worked very closely regarding a strategy to fund a synthetic turf field at Brooks,” Arnold said. “We met with affiliate groups, which would actually use the field, and talked about if they would help fund the project. They were very supportive and three affiliates graciously contributed.
“I knew there still was going to be a gap, so I reached out to Steven and Mary Jo Schuler. We had a conversation and I told them, ‘I’ll raise money,’ but asked them to help fill the gap financially for the Brooks synthetic turf field.”
Peter Traczyk, a former D7 board member who died on Feb. 7, supported the idea of all-weather fields at both schools. He assumed an instrumental role in raising awareness about the desire for two fields rather than one.
The synthetic turf installed at Julian and Brooks will be different from the crumb-rubber used at Irving and Ridgeland Common.
“The turf that will be installed at Julian and Brooks is Nike Grind, which is composed partially of ground up tennis shoe soles,” said Jan Arnold. “The crumb-rubber, which some people expressed concerns about in the community, consists of recycled tire rubber.
“I think what a lot of people don’t know is that synthetic turf fields have a huge sand base and then the rubber component. We’re looking to install the Nike Grind and see how it plays. Based on our research, it’s a positive athletic field surface.”
The park district will host two community meetings on Monday, April 13 at Brooks and on Wednesday, April 15 at Julian to share information about the installation of the two synthetic turf fields.
Installation of the fields is slated for late summer/early fall of this year.