Students enjoyed an early burst of spring Monday as they watched public officials and prominent athletes break ground for a new athletic field under construction at William C. Bryant High School in Long Island City.
The $1.6 million renovation is being undertaken by Take the Field, a non-profit corporation established in July to reconstruct the athletic facilities at New York public schools that have languished under years of neglect.
The Bryant High School pep band played jazz favorites as student athletes gathered in gym clothes and sports uniforms to celebrate the ground-breaking as well as to catch a glimpse of New York Giants Tiki Barber and Michael Strahan, who joined Giants co-owner and Take the Field cofounder Bob Tisch at the event.
"We're ahead of our groundbreaking," Tisch remarked humorously at the start of the ceremony, gesturing toward the cranes and bulldozers which had already begun remolding the earth before the symbolic shovels could hit the earth. The fields should be finished by June.
Tisch, who is also co-chairman of the Loews Corporation, founded Take the Field with urban planner Richard Kahan, chairman of The Urban Assembly, and philanthropist Tony Kiser, president of the William and Mary Greve Foundation.
The Bryant project is merely one arm of Take the Field's $17 million effort to rebuild athletic complexes at seven high schools across the five boroughs, including Far Rockaway High School in Queens, two schools in Manhattan, and one each in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. Once this demonstration program is completed, Take the Field will embark upon a more widespread plan to renovate athletic facilities at 52 public high schools throughout the city at a cost of $100 million.
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Consisting of a track wrapped around a softball diamond, the original dirt field was strewn with pebbles and shards of glass, which students said transformed athletic practice into a painful obstacle course.
"Before a game we'd have to clean garbage off the field - all that was unsafe we would rake away," said Maria Elguera, a junior on the softball team. In addition, softball coach Wally Hausdorf said rain would leave the fields so drenched that players sometimes had to spend hours sweeping water before games.
The renovations will remove the track in order to make room for a soccer field, softball diamond, and volleyball court, which will be maintained with the help of subsurface irrigation and drainage. Closer to the school, the paved upper level will be reconfigured to include two tennis/volleyball courts, five handball courts, and a handball wall.
The project not only gives a home to the school's soccer players, who practiced on the school fields but held games at a facility in Flushing, it will also enable the softball team to play without performing daily grounds maintenance.
"We made the best of it while it was out there," Hausdorf said, and his team's record proves it. In spite of the obstacles, Bryant's softball team made it to the city semi-finals last year, losing their last game by a single run.
All of the school's 27 athletic teams are expected to use the fields in some capacity.
To prevent neighbors from littering and abusing the renovated facility with weekend usage, Hausdorf said the field will be available by permit only, most likely for use by local youth groups.
"They'll have to go through proper channels, as if they're using the building," he said.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2001 Community News Group
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