Saint Ignatius to share its athletic fields with the community; some still object
September 6, 2019

Photo courtesy Saint Ignatius
Construction of new Saint Ignatius College Prep athletic fields resulted from a collaborative effort with several stakeholders.

By Andrew Adams

Saint Ignatius College Prep is constructing 12 acres of new athletic facilities along the south side of Roosevelt Road near Morgan Street in addition to updating and replacing some of the facilities throughout the privately operated Dan and Ada Rice Park on its campus, but the project also faces some opposition. 

The first project phase includes two all-season athletic fields designed to host all field sports, an Olympic-sized running track, and a refurbished baseball field to replace the existing one, with a price tag of approximately $5 million. 

The development resulted from a collaborative effort, with stakeholders from Saint Ignatius, the Saint Ignatius-connected nonprofit Inner City Education and Recreation Foundation (ICERF), the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) John M. Smyth Elementary School, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), and the City.

Officials expected this phase’s construction to end in mid-August, but opposition from 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez, some Smyth parents, and community members delayed completion.

Some opponents question the relationship among ICERF, Saint Ignatius, and CPS.

John Chandler, Saint Ignatius vice president and ICERF president, called the nonprofit “one of the organizations that Saint Ignatius partners with,” and said it often acts as an arm of Saint Ignatius and shares some staff.

Photo courtesy Saint Ignatius
Saint Ignatius College Prep on Aug. 24 held a 150th anniversary celebration on the multi-sports field at Roosevelt Road and Morgan Street.

‘A win-win’

In exchange for a lease on four tenths of an acre of land, ICERF agreed to build a play area next to Smyth School, update the school’s circle drive for drop offs, build a multimedia sign for the school, remove the building that formerly housed the Joyner Child-Parent Center (CPC), and give Smyth School priority use of Rice Park facilities during Smyth’s school day (8 a.m. to 3 p.m.) These amenities amount to about $750,000 of work from ICERF to benefit Smyth and the community, according to Chandler, who added, “I really think it’s a win-win.” 

According to Chandler, UIC will use the track for some of its teams, as the track will meet National Collegiate Athletic Association requirements.

A Chicago Board of Education report from 2017 outlined and made public the shared use agreement’s details. CPS did not comment on the valuation of either the land or the work being done. 

One of the controversies centers on the Joyner building. Sigcho-Lopez’s office went so far as to stop remediation crews from working on the building, issuing a cease and desist letter telling them to stop work “until all necessary permits and relevant documentation is presented to the Alderman’s office, as repeatedly requested.” 

Sigcho-Lopez said, “We challenged the decision with Joyner because parents have not seen the written agreement. It’s appalling to me that we did this without a written agreement.” 

Community members expressed concerns about the Joyner building at a July 22 hearing called by Alderman Sigcho-Lopez and facilitated by CPS and Saint Ignatius. 

No one has used the Joyner building, which allegedly contains asbestos, in roughly ten years. At the July hearing, CPS’s director of planning and design, Evan Smith, said officials shut down the Joyner CPC because “it was determined unfit for educational programs.”

Community members also fear removing the building named for Bernice Joyner means Joyner’s name and legacy will lack tangible, public recognition. At the hearing, a community member said, “Please don’t lose the name Bernice Joyner. We remember her,” which attendees met with applause.


Retaining Joyner’s legacy

Chandler, who attended that meeting, stressed Saint Ignatius wants to retain Joyner’s legacy in the area with a plaque or commemorative area. 

At the hearing, one man told CPS representatives, “what you’re doing is giving away CPS property to expedite the gentrification of the area.”

In an interview with Gazette Chicago, Chandler said the land for the athletic fields used to be “a few dilapidated buildings that were cleared for urban renewal.” The acreage comes from a combination of several pieces of land, including the former site of Duncan YMCA and parking lots for a UIC building.

Despite the development’s many partners, Alderman Sigcho-Lopez said of the project: “I’m a little surprised that not a lot of information was put in the community.” At the hearing, Alderman Sigcho-Lopez indicated his actions form part of a larger political program calling for “no more business as usual with backdoor deals.”

Back in December, a group of protesters led by the Pilsen Alliance rallied outside a local school council meeting whose agenda included the project. At the time, Sigcho-Lopez had not been elected alderman and was Pilsen Alliance’s executive director.

“We’ve had a very longstanding, strong presence in the community, working with various organizations,” Chandler said. He noted the project’s main purpose: to “expand practice and game playing” for Saint Ignatius’s field teams, which include men’s and women’s field hockey, lacrosse, and soccer and men’s football and rugby.

“I’m most excited about the opportunity that, in an area that has very, very limited recreational space, Saint Ignatius and Inner City will be able to provide opportunities for the community to benefit from this private project,” Chandler said.

When asked about criticism that the project is not giving back enough to the community, Chandler said he could envision partnerships with nearby Fosco Park or a rental scenario similar to the nearby UIC sports facilities.

The community holds Addas/Medill Park to the west and Arrigo Park and Sheridan Park to the north. It has no major public recreation space to the east closer than Grant Park in the South Loop. 

The project includes two more parts after phase one. In phase two, workers will install lighting, bleachers, restrooms, and concession areas. In phase three, they will build outdoor tennis courts. Construction start dates will depend on securing funding. “We never want our eyes to grow larger than our wallets,” Chandler said. 

Sigcho-Lopez said his office’s next steps are ensuring parents in the community view this project as a good deal. “We requested a meeting with the local school council for them to see [the deal] and revise it.” 

Saint Ignatius raised money from private benefactors to pay for the project, with no funds from governmental agencies.

The project has progressed slowly throughout the years, mostly due to the complexities of land acquisition in such a densely populated neighborhood.

Saint Ignatius is located at 1076 W. Roosevelt Rd.