It might have seemed like a Hail Mary pass when city officials set a goal of having construction on Bowen Field ready for the classic Thanksgiving Elm City Bowl game between football rivals James Hillhouse High School and Wilbur Cross High School, but city leaders Thursday said the project would make it into the end zone.
New Haven acting Supervisor of Athletics Erik Patchkofsky said it’s a great day for New Haven athletics and for the city when Hillhouse seniors, who never have played a game on Bowen Field, will take to the field to close out their high school careers. Next year, the newly rebuilt field, adjacent to Hillhouse, will be the host field for the school’s home games.
The completion of the work was delayed because preliminary testing in summer 2013 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.
Alder Claudette Robinson-Thorpe, D-28, said she was emotional to see the day to get back on the field had arrived.
“This is over 20 years coming, and it showed what happens when you have the tenacity and keep pushing,” she said.
State Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, said she was pleased to see the Bowen Field project, which cost about $12 million, come to a close. She compared the artificial turf field, which comes with an eight-lane track, new bleachers, locker rooms and lights, to a costly stove in her home.
“You better cook every day,” she joked that her husband told her.
Speaking more sincerely, Walker said she remembers how vibrant the community around the field was on Saturdays, with families playing and exercising.
“Athletics brings families together and gives them that foundation and that power,” she said.
Robinson-Thorpe said the excitement on the faces of the team captains, bands, cheerleaders and dance teams from Hillhouse and Wilbur Cross students present at the event justified every cost.
“I know every dollar was well spent,” she said.
Reggie Lytle, Hillhouse head football coach, said he believed the “storm is passing over.”
“The kids are excited; I’m excited,” he said, adding that he was concerning himself more with the team’s next game than what would happen during the Elm City Bowl.
Senior team captains Tyler Williams and Justin McClain both said they felt positively about having a chance to play a game on a home field.
McClain said he had “no doubts at all” the field would be ready in time, although his coach told the Register he felt differently as recently as August.
Mayor Toni Harp, president of the Board of Education, said she believes Bowen Field is a New Haven landmark.
“Today Bowen Field looks better than it has in a very long time,” she said.
According to Lytle, the team’s coach for seven years, he played on the field during his time at Hillhouse, and won a state championship in 1985.
New Haven Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Will Clark said the district tried for years to get Bowen Field worked on, calling the project’s completion a “miracle.”
Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries said he set construction teams a tough goal to complete the field, which still was being worked on during the Thursday morning press event, in time for the game.
“We want to have a field in this city our students can be proud of,” he said.
Harries said the collaboration and teamwork of elected and school officials was a reflection of the leadership and community he expects football to bring to New Haven.
Dori Dumas, president of the Greater New Haven branch of the NAACP, said she believes the field is “vital” to the community.
“This gives students a place to come and feel proud,” she said. “Our students deserve this.”
After the contaminants were found in 2013, a School Based Building Advisory Committee was formed. The EPA approved the construction project in February after the existing bleachers, locker room building, track and soils under the bleachers were abated, according to the New Haven School Construction Program.
Since construction began, the team has played its home games on Jess Dow Field at Southern Connecticut State University.