A proposal to privately fund a new artificial turf field has raised questions. | File photo

After more than a year of negotiating and delays, Proviso East High School inched closer to accepting the gift of a synthetic turf makeover for the football field courtesy of corporate sponsors lined up by football coach David Odom. 

At their April 15 meeting, the Proviso Township High School District 209 board asked staff to schedule engineering and prep-work studies at the high school to see what is needed for the new field.

The proposal so far has been a shutout. Odom was hired in May 2013 and presented an ambitious plan to gather corporate sponsors to “adopt the school” and in the process upgrade the Proviso East football facilities. 

In February 2014 a group calling itself Proviso East Corporate Partners offered to provide services of almost $1 million to fix up the football field. The proposal would have increased the field to regulation-size for football and lacrosse, which would require moving bleachers. The proposal also included a scoreboard new weight room and a remodeling of the boys locker room. 

Odom said sponsors included members of the Black McDonald’s Operators Association of Chicago, the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, the former Clear Channel (now called I Heart Radio) and the owner of two Maywood McDonald’s franchises, Jan Nelson.

Last year the partners donated uniforms, equipment and paid for breakfast for players over the summer, Odom said. 

But board member Theresa Kelly said she and Odom met with a cold shoulder when they presented the stadium offer to the district administration in early 2014. 

According to Kelly, the district countered by asking for a cash donation.

“The school wanted to handle the money and, of course, [the donors] declined,” Kelly said.

Kelly said the donors proposed working with contractors they knew who installed turf on college campuses.  

Odom, an Indianapolis native, works as a lawyer in Chicago and lives in Naperville. The former assistant coach at Benet Academy in Lisle, he was hired by District 209 after a winless 2012 football season for the Pirates.

Odom has had a rocky legal career, being suspended by the Illinois Attorney registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) three times. A fourth case is pending before the ARDC. According to the ARDC website, Odom is not authorized to practice law in Illinois at this time. 

The district punted the decision about the stadium re-do to their attorneys, Del Galdo Law Group. The attorneys also asked donors to set up a cash escrow to cover subcontractor liens or any other liability incurred during construction. At a February 2014 board meeting at Proviso Math and Science Academy, alumnus Rev. Robert Jones of Plainfield, who knows Odom, emotionally complained to the board that the district was dragging its feet on the proposal because “someone can’t get their hands in the money.” 

Meanwhile, the fall 2014 football season came and went with only a single win, and Proviso football fans were frustrated that the field face-lift had not moved forward. 

During the 2014-15 school year, the proposal was fine-tuned. Odom said the Black McDonald’s Operators Association withdrew its support to focus on schools in Chicago.

“We should have struck with McDonald’s while the iron was hot,” he said.  

Odom said he is now talking to an out-of-state client who would pay for the turf and upgrades with cash in exchange for tax benefits. The proposal now also includes possibly naming the stadium after Odom and his wife, Kimberly.

At last week’s board meeting, Supt. Nettie Collins-Hart asked the board to direct the staff to schedule preliminary engineering studies to determine water runoff and elevation of the proposed new field.

Chief Finance Officer Todd Drafall defended the delays, pointing out the proposed donation was unorthodox because it involved workers hired by someone else working on school property. 

“Usually the district bids it out and puts the scope together,” Drafall said. “Any time someone wants to give us a donation, we’re excited about it and glad to do it. But we need to make sure our architect reviews [the project] and it’s done to specifications.”

Drafall said the turf replacement was included in the district’s capital plan, in anticipation the deal would go through.

According to Kelly, the locker room remodel requires the district to replace plumbing, and they haven’t agreed to do that yet. She also complained the school had not even determined a spot for the weight room. 

Kelly was frustrated that, since the district had moved so slowly, the new field would not be ready for the fall 2015 football season. 

“These [donors] can go anywhere they want to or to another school district in Chicago, and they will be welcomed with open arms,” she said. “I’m doing my best to keep Coach Odom inspired to bring this Proviso.”

New board members Claudia Medina and Ned Wagner, to be seated in a special meeting Monday, May 4, will be part of the board that decides the fate of the proposal. 

The school’s football team has only slightly improved since Odom took the helm. The Pirates’ lone win last fall was a 29-7 win over Maine West in their season opener on August 30, 2014. After that, they lost eight games in a row to finish season. Supporters wonder if a brand new field might be a morale boost for the team’s performance. 

Odom recently congratulated four senior players — Terry Alm, Marcus Givens, Kameron Irvin and Kahlil Richardson — who will attend the University of Dubuque and play on the Spartans football team next year.

“What I’ve tried to do has required sacrifice from the kids,” Odom said in the District 209 newsletter. “These kids have shown that they’re quality human beings.”

 Marty Farmer contributed to this article.

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...

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