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There have been various high school expansion plans through the years that looked good, but failed to deliver on their promises, specifically to enhance the experience of student-athletes.
Topping the list is when District 230, home to Stagg, Sandburg and Andrew high schools, embarked on an ambitious $118 million expansion project approximately 14 years ago. If you'll recall, the initial proposal included the addition of much-needed fieldhouses to accommodate all three growing athletic programs.
While the expansion occurred, the fieldhouses never saw the light of day. Instead, more vital and practical necessities such as tear-shaped desks and talking garbage cans were included in the final plan, which happened to exceed budget by tens of millions of dollars.
Athletics never were much of a priority for then Dist. 230 superintendent Dr. Tim Brown, who would be hard-pressed to decipher a fieldhouse from an outhouse.
So when Homewood-Flossmoor announced a few years back that it was forging ahead on a $26 million renovation to its north building, which primarily is used for athletics and activities, I was skeptical.
Shame on me.
On Monday, I toured the recently completed facility, and I must say, it's a jaw-dropper. It's a gorgeous state-of-the-art multipurpose facility that is without equal at any Southland high school.
Where others have tried, H-F blasted it out of the park.
"We took 20 site visits from different schools and campuses," said Jodi Bryant, H-F's director of human resources and public relations.
"We did our homework. This allows us to get as many students involved in as many programs as possible. Our focus is in providing great experiences for kids."
The renovation encompasses 137,000 square feet and includes a new fieldhouse, 200-meter indoor track, four full-size basketball courts with 24 rims, designated practice rooms for cheerleaders, poms and wrestlers, state-of-the-art weight and training rooms, new locker rooms, coaching room and other necessities. Did I mention there's a 30-by-55-yard indoor turf area that offers additional practice space? Well, there is.
There also are batting cages for the baseball and softball programs.
There isn't a sport under H-F's vast athletic umbrella that will not benefit from this new facility.
Mind you, it's a large umbrella. Nearly half of H-F's 2,800 students compose 75 different athletic teams and 65 different clubs and activities.
The facility eliminates space restrictions and allows for multiple teams to simultaneously practice. The days of some teams scheduling practices at 6 a.m. and others finishing at 10 p.m. - the result of a lack of space - are over.
This renovation isn't a luxury; it's a necessity, according to Bryant and the coaches.
"When the weather is bad, our whole program can practice indoors at the same time in 21/2 hours," H-F baseball coach Todd Sippel said. "We can get our work done and be out of there. It's a top-notch facility. It's better than most small college facilities."
There's an added bonus that sits outside to the north of the fieldhouse: a regulation-size turf field, which will be the primary home for sophomore and freshmen football, soccer, lacrosse and field hockey teams. There are schools whose varsity programs don't boast a field this spectacular.
"I've had a lot of college coaches from big-time Division I conferences come through here and all of them, to a man, say they've never seen a high school facility like this," H-F football coach Craig Buzea said.
It also - fair or otherwise - raises the expectations of H-F's athletic program. A school that already boasts exceptional athletes now offers second-to-none facilities. Will it guarantee additional state championships? Of course not. But it certainly puts H-F in better position than most to achieve that lofty goal.
When it rains or snows, H-F has the space and equipment to accommodate its teams' practice sessions.
Mother Nature has found her match.
"We used the indoor turf field as a full infield this year when the weather was bad," Sippel said. "It was great."
The renovation is a game-changer in another way: It will allow H-F's feeder programs greater access to the campus. The more eyes and feet that experience this renovation, the more likely the elite athletes will want to be a part of the H-F family, which already offers top-notch academics.
"We have to offer more community groups to come here and see our campus," H-F athletic director Dan Vosnos said. "We want to get kids excited to come to H-F at an early age."