Racquetball Equipment

Marist plans sports campus in former Palos Courts building

Marist High School officials decided buying an existing athletic facility was more economical than building one from scratch on their own campus in Mount Greenwood.

So when school president Larry Tucker saw the for sale sign on the Palos Courts building in Palo Heights, he inquired about it.

“Part of the (school’s) strategic plan is that we should look for an indoor facility with some sort of grass that the kids could use in bad weather,” Tucker said.

Marist, a coeducational Catholic high school with about 1,585 students, has space on its 55-acre campus at 4200 W. 115th St. for such a building, but it would be tight, Tucker said.

Then the school administrators looked at the cost of such a project and balked.

“If we were to build it on our campus, the cost was going to be astronomical,” Tucker said, “so we shelved it.”

Marist has excellent sports facilities on campus, he said, but there are so many boys’ and girls’ teams for different sports that practices have to be scheduled increasingly later in the evening. The school also does not have indoor fields for the marching band and the baseball, softball, lacrosse, and football teams when it is snowing or raining or the field is not in good condition. Teams must then compete for space in the school gymnasium.

Tucker knew the owner of the Palos Courts building, 1221 S. Ridgeland Ave., and his adult son, Mike Brennan, who graduated from Marist two years after Tucker.

“It seemed like such a great opportunity. I called and we talked about it,” Tucker said.

He has discussed this possibility with Marist athletic staff and his school board. Palos Courts, on the east side of Ridgeland, just south of Route 83, is approximately 4 miles from the Marist campus.

There were other potential buyers for the 75,000 square foot building, Tucker said, but the Brennan family ultimately decided to sell to Marist for $1.8 million. The sale was closed on August 30.

School officials expect to spend as much on the renovations, though the changes and budget are yet to be determined. The building is over 20 years old has been used for tennis, volleyball, racquetball and other sports.

The Marist administrators want to create a football field and a baseball field inside. Although neither are regulation size, they would be large enough to be used for practice matches and training camps.

It will mean Marist students will be able to go home earlier, leaving time for homework, sleep and general well-being, said Tucker, who served as director of Marist for 22 years before becoming president.

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The facility will include air-conditioned locker rooms for girls and boys, concessions, simulators for golf teams to practice, audio-visual equipment and space for sports medicine, sports performance and other careers programs in the healthcare field that students might want to pursue.

The first priority will be putting on a new roof and tidying up the building, Tucker said. Once it is airtight, workers can install the new sods over the winter.

Work will be staggered, so students can use the areas as they are ready over the next year, rather than waiting for the full renovation.

The building could also be used for school ministries, campus retreats and Marist meetings, Tucker said. Although it is designed primarily for use by Marist students, he said it could be available to alumni, high schools and area sports clubs.

The plan is to fund purchase and renovation expenses with donor contributions.

In the coming weeks, Marist will launch a fundraising campaign to raise between $4 million and $5 million, Tucker said.

Kimberly Fornek is a freelance journalist for the Daily Southtown.