NEW HAVEN >>The message was loud and clear.
Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries said Monday the goal is to have Bowen Field at James Hillhouse High School ready for the 2015 Elm City Bowl Classic.
Harries was flanked by elected officials, students, parents and community members during a ground-breaking ceremony at Hillhouse when he announced the rebuilding of Bowen Field.
The Elm City Bowl is the Thanksgiving Day football rivalry between Hillhouse and Wilbur Cross High School.
The preparations for pre-construction for Bowen Field had been underway in August 2013 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.
“This is an important moment of taking the concrete steps of rebuilding this facility for the school, students and community that we all can be proud of,” Harries said Monday.
“The aim is the Elm City Bowl next year,” he said. “I’ve told the football team that and that’s what were working towards.”
Harries said the field will have a state-of-the-art track, football field with turf, bleachers, lighting, bathrooms and a locker room facility.
The bid package for the $11.6 million project will go out in two weeks. In addition to the project cost, an additional $4.8 million was secured for remediation, which is being funded through a state grant.
“We want this project to involve the community on the construction side,” Harries said. “The community needs to organize to respond to the bid proposal.”
Mayor Toni Harp said the goal is to help young people learn and apply their knowledge so they can achieve.
“Our goal is to help young people develop their talent across the board with this new sports facility,” said Harp.
“Young people of Hillhouse High School and throughout the New Haven region will have the opportunity to develop athletic abilities, train for competition and achieve beyond what they could do before,” she said.
Members of high school’s football booster club became enraged last month and demanded federal assistance as toxic chemicals remained on the field after the district planned to have construction start last November.
The project was delayed when the district had to engage in additional testing of the site and work with the Environment Protect Agency on a remediation plan to clean up the site before construction could begin. The process, which is required by law, took longer than expected, according to the district.
“This is a major event for us. It’s the first big milestone, which lets everyone know the work has been approved and we can begin to see something actually happening on the field,” said booster club coordinator Billy Oliver.
“We want to be here when the actual equipment arrives, to see the bleachers come down; we want to celebrate every piece of getting this stadium and field reopened,” he said. “Citizen advocacy is important and we don’t take it very lightly.”
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, who was at the field Monday, said community advocacy was key in getting the project up and running.
“This is really a city and state collaborative effort and I was really happy to play a role in this process,” said DeLauro. “All of you here today made it happen; what a great community need we have.”
Hillhouse Principal Kermit Carolina said city and state leaders sent a clear message by supporting the project, one that shows the students and community are valued.
“We’re excited for this community, our parents, and particularly our students,” said Carolina.
“The best day in the city is Thanksgiving morning, it’s been a long-standing tradition that we need to preserve,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the Elm City Bowl here Thanksgiving Day 2015.”
Hillhouse head football coach Reggie Lytle said his team will have a place to call home.
“We’ll be next to the school, we’ll have more support from our fans and the community,” Lytle said.
“The players are very excited about this opportunity, because it’s tradition and legacy,” he said. “A lot of their parents and grandparents played on this field.”
State Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, who grew up near the field, said people have a vested interest in the community.
“When we come out here and meet our neighbors on the track, it shows that we are not only invested in our community, but also in our lives,” said Walker, who was instrumental in moving the project forward.
“I’ve met with the developers, because I wanted them to know that parents, grandparents and great grandparents have been here making sure our community is strong,” she said.
Alder Claudette Robinson-Thorpe, D-28, and state Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, said the ground-breaking ceremony was a huge success and a victory for the entire community.