DeSales starts work on new sports complex October 21 2014

Try to picture it: a 3,000-seat sports complex, a new practice field, more than 100 added parking spots on DeSales High School's campus.

It's difficult to imagine, school president Doug Strothman said, but once the school's monastery and five homes next to the Iroquois campus are torn down, the picture will be clear.

In February, the school began fundraising efforts for a $4 million-project that includes building an artificial turf field and sports complex so students can play all levels of football, baseball and soccer games at home.

The school, on Kenwood Drive, has since expanded the project to a $6 million-effort that includes demolishing the five homes and building a grass practice field.

Visual progress of the project finally started showing this week when a bulldozer ripped into the long-standing monastery, which sat vacant on the property for the past 10 years.

"Our community has been waiting for something significant like this to happen for a while," Strothman said. "There was buzz in the building today just seeing a hole in the monastery."

Watching the monastery's destruction is bittersweet, Strothman and director of advancement Josh Blandford said, but for the school to move forward, the empty building had to go.

The three-story monastery was built in 1957 as living quarters for Carmelite priests who worked at the school, Blandford said. About 30 people lived in the building at one point, but the last Carmelite priest moved out in 2004, and the building has been used mostly for storage since.

"We will always treasure the Carmelite past," Blandford said. "They laid a tremendous foundation for what we now, today have here. Without them, we would not be the same place at all."

Once the demolition is finished, the school will be able to start building the turf field and a new parking lot where the monastery stood. The field will run north-south, behind the school's L-shaped building, and will have seating for 3,000 fans. Two field houses will have concession stands, restrooms, locker rooms and athletic department offices.

Strothman said construction on the sports complex could begin at the end of this year's football season or be held for a year, depending on when planning is completed.

The school plans to demolish the five homes in January and will plant the grass practice field so it's ready by next fall, Strothman said.

The soccer team and a proposed lacrosse team will mainly use the practice field, while the baseball and football teams will use the turf field.

Currently, the soccer team practices off campus and the varsity football team plays all away games. The additions will allow all sports to stay on site, Strothman said.

"A big part of the initiative is trying to get as many of our students and their after school activities on our campus instead of sending them out into various parts of the community," he said.

DeSales has raised nearly $1.7 million toward the project and plans to pay for the rest with loans, Strothman said. The project should be completed within the next 12 to 18 months.