Turf, new track on way for Champaign's Tommy Stewart Field


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Unit 4's high school football field and track at Centennial will each receive a face-lift in the next year.

The natural grass at Tommy Stewart Field will be replaced with artificial turf, and the Harold Jester track will be replaced from the foundation to the surface next summer in what will be one of the first projects completed following last year's $183.4 million Unit 4 facilities referendum.

"It's something that we can show the community, 'We are moving forward, here's something we're going to get done,' as we begin the process over the next few years of total renovation and building over the next few years," Centennial athletic director Tony Millard said. "This project is a little easier in logistics and design rather than what we're going through" with the rest of the renovations.

Both Centennial and Champaign Central play football games at Tommy Stewart Field, and both track teams practice and host meets at the stadium along with all three Unit 4 middle schools.

Central, however, will not host any meets this year on a track that both Millard and Central athletic director John Woods said is long overdue for a rebuild. Both athletic directors said there are currently large cracks in the track's foundation, among other issues.

"We're looking forward to having a track that is able to host the Big 12's, able to host a sectional meet," Millard said. "Right now, the track is in such bad shape that we've told the IHSA, 'We cannot host a sectional until our track is redone.'"

Replacing the grass with artificial turf provides Centennial much more scheduling flexibility. Millard said the band will be able to practice on it, PE classes will be able to use it, and soccer lines will be included, so the school has the possibility of hosting soccer sectionals in the future.

"That football field gets used nine times when it's grass," Woods said. "That's a ton of property to be used nine times a year because you don't want to do any damage to the field. I think it's terrific for Centennial. And it'll be great for us. Playing Friday night football on the turf under the lights will be fun for a couple of years."

Central will eventually build a new football stadium at McKinley Field along with an eight-lane track, projected to be done for the 2020-21 school year. While the current plan is to have the stadium serve as a junior varsity field, Woods is pushing to have the varsity play there.

The turf and track renovations at Centennial, though, will lead off the changes coming to Unit 4 schools.

"I think it's exciting for our prospects in terms of moving forward with the process overall and having something to show for it," Millard said, "a nice facility that we'll be able to show off a little bit next year."

Multimedia Specialist

Anthony Zilis is a multimedia specialist at The News-Gazette. His email is azilis@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@adzilis).