NEW HAVEN>> Hillhouse football player Noah Brown has never played a game on Bowen Field.
And it’s likely he never will.
“Its been four years and I haven’t had the chance to play on Bowen field,” said Brown, 18, a senior, who will be playing his final season for the school.
“We won the state championship three years ago and I was a freshman then,” Brown said, noting that at that point he had hoped the field would be ready by his senior season.
“We’re not respected by the city, Board of Education, the district nor the state,” he said. “All we want is to play on our field.”
Bowen Field is adjacent to Hillhouse High School where the team uses the field to practice and play its home games.
In October, during a ground-breaking ceremony to announce rebuilding work, Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries said the goal was to have the field ready for this year’s Elm City Bowl on Nov. 26 against Wilbur Cross.
However, that goal maybe shy of reaching the mark.
“They’re telling us the project started late and, honestly, I don’t think it’s going to be ready,” Hillhouse football coach Reggie Lytle said. “Not having a field affects players’ self-esteem because, for a lot of them, their grandparents, uncles, and fathers played on that field.”
“They’ve always had a dream to play on the same field. It demoralizes them by not being able to follow their dreams. I have seniors that will never have the opportunity to play on this field.”
The total cost of the Bowen Field project is roughly $12 million, with much of the cost reimbursable through state school construction grants. The additional $4.9 million cost of remediation is being funded through a state grant.
New Haven Public Schools spokeswoman Abbe Smith said the remediation phase of the project and demolition have been completed.
“We are now in the construction phase and are working hard to make up for time lost during the severe winter weather this past year,” Smith said.
“Unfortunately, it will be a real challenge to finish the project in time for the Elm City Bowl game, but we are pushing as hard as we can toward that goal. Right now construction is focused on setting the foundation and working below ground.”
In August 2013, preparations for pre-construction by the school district for Bowen Field were underway until preliminary testing found elevated levels of PCB in caulk joints of the bleachers and in the paint on the exterior of the locker rooms, according to the school district.
The school board immediately contacted the New Haven Health Department, which reached out to the state Department of Public Health and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to notify the agencies of the findings and the plan to immediately fence off all areas impacted by the PCBs, according to a August 2013 district press release.
In addition, the school board also contacted U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to discuss its findings and the plan immediately to fence off all impacted areas, install signs informing the public of the areas being tested and limit access around the bleachers and impacted buildings, the 2013 release said.
A School Based Building Advisory Committee was formed. Tim Jennings, a former head football coach at Hillhouse, said he feels the frustration of the players and coaching staff.
“If you know anything about football you need to be prepared for games, and right now ever since Lytle took the job he’s never had the opportunity to have a field he could even practice on,” said Jennings, who coached the team from 1976-89 and won a state championship in 1985.
“It’s a lot of things that go into playing the game and you can’t do the things you need with the field they’re practicing on now. I’m hoping Mother Nature works with us this fall, but I take my hat of to them for sticking it out.”
As the project pushes forward, Smith said the district is working on other possible sites for the team. Last year, Hillhouse played four of its five home games at Southern Connecticut State’s Jess Dow Field.
“We are incredibly grateful that SCSU has granted us this use for the upcoming year,” Smith said. “We are in the process of working out the game schedule and are hopeful that we can negotiate for use of Jess Dow Field for the Elm City Bowl, if Bowen is not yet ready to go.
“We know Southern has some concerns about use of the field on Thanksgiving, but we hope we can negotiate a plan for use that day.”
While players are hesitant of becoming excited about the potential use of Jess Dow Field for the Thanksgiving Day bowl game, Hillhouse Principal Kermit Carolina said the delay in fixing their own field is disappointing.
“Although there may be extenuating circumstances that could delay the completion of the Bowen Field project, it still doesn’t remove the feelings of disappointment amongst many people,” Carolina said.
“This would be the second year in a row that our students, parents and alumni would miss the opportunity to experience the great long-standing New Haven tradition of the Thanksgiving Day football game at Bowen Field,” he said.
However, Carolina did acknowledge and appreciate all of the state and local leaders who have worked extremely hard to began the process of providing the school and community with a state-of-the-art facility.
“I am sure that they are doing everything within their power to meet the November 2015 deadline and make this Thanksgiving Day a beautiful reality,” Carolina said.
But former Hillhouse High School football player Marcellus Edwards said he believes if the field were in another town it would be completed.
“There is no reason for the field to take this long to complete, it’s ridiculous,” said Edwards, who played under Jennings from 1978-81.
“I don’t want to make it this type of issue, but you wonder. If this was Guilford, Madison, or Branford, I believe the field would have been done. They would have at least played a dozen games on the field by now,” he said. “What they’re doing to those student-athletes is unfair and undeserved.”
Yet, Smith said the district is excited about moving forward on the project to give students, families and community a state-of-the-art track and field facility with fully renovated bleachers and locker rooms.
“This project will give New Haven students a field they can be proud to play on and we are excited for that day to come,” said Smith.
“We wish it could have been in time for this year’s team to play home games at Bowen, but we are working diligently to make sure the project gets done right so that future teams have an exceptional home field,” she said.
On May 28, the school construction team met with the School-Based Building Advisory Committee to update stakeholders on the project’s status and delays over the winter, according to the district.
Despite the reasons for the delay, starting quarterback Damian Henderson, 16, said the district is not putting its best foot forward for field resolution.
“We’re very disappointed and upset at the pace of the work; we probably won’t play on the field next season either,” said Henderson, a junior.
“Other fields around us are getting done faster than ours. We’re seeing that happen” he said. “The weather hadn’t been that bad. That’s not the issue.”