Amundsen High School coach Craig Newman pours quick dry clay onto the baseball field at Winnemac Park April 21, 2022. Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago

LINCOLN SQUARE — The Amundsen High School community and local alderman are urging Chicago Park District officials to support a plan to fix longstanding flooding problems at Winnemac Park once and for all.

Amundsen’s principal and baseball coaches say the issues with the park’s baseball fields turning muddy and unplayable after rain date back at least 10 years. This year’s soggy weather has exacerbated the problems, forcing players and coaches to prep the fields themselves in order to safely practice and play.

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) has proposed using money from the Western Avenue (North) Tax Increment Financing district to potentially install turf at Winnemac Park before the funding expires in 2024. At a community meeting Thursday, dozens of neighbors pushed the park district to act, whether that means improving regular maintenance of the grounds or converting the fields to turf.

Chicago schools that have access to turf fields can practice as soon as the baseball season starts which creates a disadvantage for schools like Amundsen whose players combat flooding and unusable fields for weeks, Principal Anna Pavichevich said. 

“No one takes care of this and maintains it,” Pavichevich said. “We lose practice time and have to spend time on maintenance.”

Amundsen High School baseball players try to dry their baseball field at Winnemac Park April 21, 2022. Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago

Park District official Tiffany Sostrin said the agency is responsible for more than 700 softball and baseball diamonds across the city. Only four — like Stars & Stripes Park and Wentworth Parkin in Garfield Ridge — use turf, she said.

The park district has 55 turf fields for combined football, soccer and lacrosse use, Sostrin said.

Sostrin said officials have spoken to Vasquez for months about the possibility of turf at Amundsen but want to ensure there’s “sufficient community support” to change the grounds. Then the park district can identify how a project can be funded, who needs to approve that funding and hire a designer to draft a plan for the changes, Sostrin said.

“We’ll go through a stormwater review and permit process and then get in line to order some turf and get it shipped here and then wait for it to be warm enough to be installed,” Sostrin said.

The cost of turf may be more expensive now due to the rising cost of oil and complicated by ongoing supply chain issues due to the pandemic, Sostrin said.

“There are not a lot of turf manufacturers in the United States that we can purchase from and they are having some significant issues,” she said.

Neighbor Colleen Contreras said that instead of turf, the park district should mobilize crews to maintain the Winnemac’s baseball fields earlier in the year to better match up with the Illinois High School Association schedule that is planned out five years in advance.

“So the kids don’t have to do it themselves,” she said.  

While some neighbors disagreed on whether to focus efforts on a better grass and dirt field or installing an artificial turf field, the majority was clear there needs to be some solution before the TIF expires.

“We’ve got the principal here. We’ve got the athletic team. We’ve got coaches. We’ve got community members that are clearly invested in making sure that we do what we can to support our community here and do it right,” Vasquez said. 

Vasquez said he will host another meeting on the issue May 12. Before that, he will gather additional feedback from neighbors through an online survey

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