It’s a numbers game.
Of the projected 1,750-plus students at Lake Forest High School students this fall, 700 are participating in an interscholastic sport.
The fall is one of the busiest sports seasons at the high school level featuring four boys and six girls’ teams, plus one of the highest participation sports in football.
“Athletics are a key component of the educational experience for the vast majority of our kids,” said Brian Vandenberg, past president of the Lake Forest High School Boosters. “The amount of students we have participating is remarkable when you consider the size of the student body.”
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Those kinds of numbers have created an imbalance with regards to the school’s athletic facilities at its east campus, according to Vandenberg. “These facilities don’t adequately address the existing or projected athletic participation levels at the high school,” he said.
To regain that balance, the Booster Club has embarked on an aggressive fundraising campaign to raise $2.5 million to pay for a new track, bleachers, press box and two synthetic turf fields at the east campus. The timeframe is to begin construction by August of next year, and to complete it by October.
“I believe an aggressive schedule can be met if this group chooses to make it happen,” said Vandenberg to a group of Lake Forest High School parents and Booster Club members at an Aug. 25 reception at the east campus to kick off the “Diamond Anniversary Campaign” — so named to match the school’s 75th birthday this year.
“The timeline can be accelerated if campaign pledges are secured quickly, or may be extended if fundraising is slower than we anticipate,” he added.
The project is actually not a new idea. In 2006, Lake Forest taxpayers passed a $54 million referendum that originally included improvements to the east campus athletic facilities. However, the item was dropped from the final referendum proposal to accommodate more pressing academic needs, according to Dr. Harry Griffith, superintendent of Lake Forest High School.
“What we didn’t anticipate was that we would run into the financial times that we’ve run into the past two to three years,” Griffith told the same audience. “That has brought all of our capital improvement projects at the high school to a stop other than small maintenance items.
“This is only a vision for us,” he continued. “There is no way that we as a school district could address a need for hundreds of athletes in the fall, hundreds of athletes in the spring, and equally so during the school day with our physical education program.”
Griffith said the economy and school districts faced with tighter budgets hampered by a stagnant real estate market has created a need to seek alternative funding sources.
“This project is the most important project that could happen on this campus,” Griffith said. “As you see across America, there are communities helping their public schools, and other public institutions, in the spirit of giving that is not easy to do. We know that. But on the other hand, it’s happening.
“It’s an amazing thing the spirit of giving, the spirit of philanthropy. This project can show our community what can be done at Lake Forest High School from the kind of support parents and other community members can give us.”