Park District pushing ahead with soccer field

The Chicago Park District plans to approve construction of a controversial Lincoln Park soccer field Wednesday morning, but the scheduled vote has already prompted legal opposition from a group of area residents.

The district had initially agreed to allow the nearby Latin School to build the field. But a group of residents, the Committee to Keep Lincoln Park Public, cried foul over allowing a private organization to build on public property.

They sued, accusing the district of violating the state's open-meetings act during the planning process, and ultimately forced the Latin School off the bargaining table.

Park officials have called a special meeting Wednesday to vote on moving forward without the Latin School.

But CKLPP sued yesterday to halt the meeting. Attorney Herb Caplan says the Park District scheduled the vote after a holiday weekend in hopes that opponents will be out of town and unable to voice their concerns.

"They're trying to sneak it through without as much public input," Caplan says.

The board will hold its next regularly scheduled meeting at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 10, one week after the special meeting.

Park District officials did not respond to several messages left yesterday and today seeking comment about the scheduled vote.

"What's the emergency to call a special meeting about it?" says Greta Lear, another field opponent. "Usually when there's something everyone's proud of, there's a big ribbon cutting and people show up."

"Here this seems to be designed just for the opposite," she says.

Caplan and the group of taxpayers are also claiming that the Park District violated judge-mandated sanctions by working on the soccer field before a scheduled public hearing.

"Two days before the hearing they had trucks and workman and had removed (the) scoreboard," Caplan said. "As soon as they observed us taking photographs, all the trucks left the scene."

The group plans to use the photos as evidence in court, if necessary.

"It's a real travesty, it's corruption," Lear said. "We're planning to sue again."

Caplan says additional litigation to halt the project altogether is in the works.

Latin School spokeswoman Melissa Jarmel says the school still supports the field.

"Latin, while not participating directly in the construction of the field in Lincoln Park, is hopeful that the school, along with other organizations, will have many other opportunities to help the Chicago Park District serve our community to fullest extent possible," says Jarmel.

Lear says she still feels cheated out of her own tax dollars because of shoddy planning by the Park District.

"The only reason this site was chosen was because of its proximity to The Latin School," she says. "As it turns out, it was the most horrible site possible."

Cost of the soccer field's construction totals more than $2 million, most of which was spent on installing a drainage system for the field.