Work under way on athletic complex at Hazel Park High
HAZEL PARK — For months now, Hazel Park High has been a flurry of construction activity. From the press box atop the stadium’s home bleachers, one can see dump trucks, front loaders, bulldozers and backhoes zipping back and forth across a vast swath of chewed-up earth.
Workers carry supplies between mountains of dirt, where soon there will be brand-new baseball and softball diamonds, meaning students will no longer have to hold their practices at Green Acres Park. Six tennis courts will also be installed, as well as a multi-purpose practice area running 70-80 yards east and west — extra space for the sports teams, physical education classes and marching band.
And then there is the brand new football and soccer field, already complete, a new synthetic turf in place that will last longer and require minimal maintenance. The field is aesthetically pleasing, alternating light and dark green every five yards, save the middle 10 yards, where a massive maroon-and-gray Viking head adorns the field.
The stadium’s eight lights have been reduced to four energy-efficient ones that provide abundant illumination. Safety fencing has been added behind the topmost rails of the home and guest bleachers. The second press box on the guest side will be removed.
Around the field, a brand new track is being laid down. Once the rubberized surface is complete, it will be spray-painted maroon and marked appropriately. Finally, students will be able to hold practice and meets at the school. The previous track had deteriorated to the point where tripping hazards made it unsafe to run on.
Such improvements will be cause for celebration at Homecoming, by which time the athletic complex renovations will be complete. Not only will the facilities be fully functional again after decades of wear and tear, but their ongoing maintenance will be supported by new additions like a three-bay garage and storage facility, recently approved by the Hazel Park Board of Education.
Construction has gone smoothly so far, according to Fred Nix, the owner’s work representative. The most unpredictable element has been the weather — dry one moment, wet the next. After a deluge of rain, the land reveals its innately marshy nature. A backhoe even sank into the muck at one point and required extra effort to remove.
“This was once solid woods,” said Nix, who grew up in the city and graduated from Hazel Park High in 1964 before going to college and returning as a teacher and coach, then a principal, and later assistant superintendent. “I used to get polliwogs out of this place,” he said. Now, it will be an immaculately landscaped athletic complex — sodded, well-lit and irrigated by sprinkling systems.
The $2.6 million athletic complex is not the only project at the high school. Other items in the cards include district-wide technology upgrades, roofing and parking improvements, and more.
The work is the result of two proposals that voters approved last August. The first measure was an $8 million bond to buy new technology, and to improve the schools and athletic facilities. The tax levy will be repaid over 20 years.
The second measure was a building and site sinking fund, raising roughly $304,340 each year for five years. This money can only be spent on fixing and maintaining existing facilities; it cannot be used for operating costs or other expenses, such as teacher, administrator or staff salaries.
All told, voters approved 3.1 mills between the school improvement bond and building and site sinking fund. The district gets $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value, multiplied by millage rate.
“Since I was first employed here back in the late ’60s, with the district, the people of Hazel Park have always supported the schools’ requests for millages and bonds, without fail,” Nix said. “This package passed, if you recall, in every precinct. The folks, in the hardest of economic times, said ‘yes’ to this.”
Shirley Atcho, a resident of Hazel Park and assistant to the district superintendent, said she’s thrilled by the work being done.
“My kids played here and marched here,” Atcho said. “I see progress, everything coming down and going up. I think schools are centerpieces for any city, and when you go by these facilities and see the new logo on the football field, it’s all very exciting — for the district and for us in the city.”
Demolition began in April, at the end of the frost season. One of the remaining structures is the entrance to the stadium, which bears the words “Hazel Park High” and an Art Deco relief embedded with a clock. This façade was salvaged from the original Hazel Park High, 1929-60, which then became Beecher Junior High. Beecher, in turn, was demolished in 2004. The façade was headed for the landfill but preserved as a piece of the district’s past. Now, the complex around it is ready for the future.
“This is all accomplished because of the support of the voters in Hazel Park,” Nix said. “This will be just an outstanding facility for decades to come. It’s going to be a jewel for Hazel Park.”
Hazel Park High School, 23400 Hughes, can be reached at (248) 658-5100.