By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — Ernie DiFiore couldn’t be more excited about Central Catholic High School’s plan to build a new athletic field by September.
“I can’t wait until I can stand on it because it’s a dream come true,’’ said DiFiore, who has been Central’s athletic director for the past two years. “I’ll be doing snow angels.’’
Central will build a $2 million, 500-seat, lighted stadium at the corner of Hampshire and Auburn Street next to the school. The area has a teachers’ parking lot, which will be reduced in size to make room for the artificial turf field. The school’s main parking lot will not be changed.
The new field is where Central’s girls and boys soccer, boys and girls lacrosse and field hockey teams will practice and play. The freshman and junior varsity football teams will also play there, while the varsity football team will continue to play its home games at Lawrence’s Veterans Memorial Stadium. The new field will not have a running track due to a lack of space.
The school was founded in 1935, but never had its own athletic field, forcing Central athletes to play many of their “home” games away from home.
“One of the things which has always been a hope for anyone who has been a part of the school is to have home games at home,” said Brother Richard Carey, president of the school.
“It has always been, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we had our own facility ... so the athletes can feel the same excitement and fun?’ ‘‘ he said of what teams from other schools enjoy. “Now we’ll be able to have that this fall.”
Having their own stadium will also motivate Central students to attend sporting events.
“It’s going to be part of the school spirit,” Carey said.
The campaign to raise the $2 million started in late October and will continue through the summer. So far, the school has raised $954,000 in cash and pledges, said David DeFillippo, director of community relations at the school. He said the campaign has received several donations of $100,000 from alumni.
“It has given us a great start,” he said.
Groundbreaking for the field will be in April and the project will be completed by September 2014, school officials said.
“We know it is an ambitious effort, but it can be done,” DeFillippo said.
Central Catholic will begin a public campaign called “Pave the way for the new field.” Contributors can purchase bricks, which will be part of the walkway leading to the field, DeFillippo said.
Carey said the initiative’s name — “Our Raiders’ Field of Dreams” — is appropriate.
“When someone has a dream and it comes true, it’s a great thing,’’ he said. “It’s been a long time coming.’’
Central Principal Doreen Keller agreed.
“The most exciting thing is that the students will be able to have home games on campus and they’ll truly be home games,” she said. “It will provide athletes with the support of spirited fans.”
Keller said that in addition to sporting events, the field will be used for things like physical education classes, reunions, and parents and alumni events.
The project will include drainage construction and relocation of underground utilities such as electricity, cable, telephone and Internet service, DiFillippo said.
Current Central students have contributed to the drive to raise money for the field. They donated the $132,000 raised during the school’s annual walkathon to the project. That was 30 percent more than last year’s walkathon total.
“We want to keep the legacy alive,” said senior Tyler Andrade of Lawrence, secretary of the school’s student council. “This is something we wanted to see for a long time and we wanted to give to the future because we care about Central Catholic so much.”
Andrade and Michael Consoli of Methuen said there was tremendous enthusiasm during the walk because the money raised was going toward the athletic field. Before the walk, the student council made a presentation about the project.
“There was a gasp in the crowd when we showed them the rendering,’’ said Consoli, a member of the Raiders football team who also runs track in the winter and spring. “During the walk, there was absolutely more excitement and enthusiasm than usual.’’
Although he will not play on the new turf because he is graduating in May, Consoli is still excited about the project.
“There’s nothing like standing on the 50 yard line in your own field and looking at the home crowd,” he said.
DiFiore said Central teams have relied on the generosity of many people so they can use other fields to play games. There are some advantages to that, including bonding with teammates during the bus ride. Disadvantages include spending too much time traveling to and from games and paying for bus service.
Due to the number of fans who attend Central varsity football games, the team will continue playing its home games at nearby Veterans Memorial Stadium, DiFiore said.
“We still need the stadium and we still need Lawrence,” he said.
DeFillippo said Central Catholic rents field space in Lawrence and Amesbury and as far away as Windham, N.H.
DiFiore is thrilled the school is building its own field.
“It’s overwhelming that this is happening,’’ he said. “I get emotional thinking about it. This is going to be such a huge opportunity for the school and students.”
With the new field, Central Catholic athletic programs will be able to host 85 home games each year.
“This is not just a way for us to beautify the campus, but a unique opportunity to improve the city,” said Michael Torrisi, chairman of the Central Catholic Board of Directors.
Torrisi said he expects the school will have no difficulty raising the rest of the money needed for the project.
Central Catholic was founded by the Marist Brothers in 1935 as an all-boys high school. It became coed in 1996, after St. Mary High, an all-girls school, closed. Central has 1,330 students who come from 53 local communities as well as China, Korea, Vietnam and Switzerland.
DeFillippo said Central’s Board of Directors and school administrators unveiled the field plan to faculty members, students and their families earlier this school year.
Huntress Associates, Inc. of Andover is the field architect and designer and Gino Baroni, who graduated from Central Catholic in 1974, is project manager. He owns Trident Project Advisers and Development Group of Salem, N.H. The company worked with Central Catholic in 2007 on its Marion Avenue and Athletic Facilities Project with the city to improve pedestrian and student safety, traffic, water quality, and recreational opportunities along the Spicket River.
“As our athletic program has grown since we became coed, the demand for facilities has pressed us to the limit for a number of years,” DeFillippo said. “This seems like the appropriate time (to build) because of the crying need.”
The field will support Central Catholic’s already powerful athletic program.
The hockey team is playing against Austin Prep today in the Super 8 at the TD Garden in Boston. The football team won the Division 1 state title at Gillette Stadium last fall and the girls basketball team took home the Division 1 state title last year.
“We had to do something to reward them for their excellent performance,’’ DeFillippo said of providing the new field to students. “We felt the need was more acute than it has ever been and we needed to address it. That is why the board of directors and administrators put it on the front burner.”
About the Central Catholic field
Synthetic turf surface allowing games in all kinds of weather
Bleachers for 500 spectators
Lighting for night games
Parking spaces for 50 cars
Walkway leading to the field
Safety fencing and netting
Scoreboard and timer
How to donate
Alumni, parents, coaches and friends can purchase bricks for the walkway leading to the new field. To contribute, checks can be made out to “Our Raiders Field of Dreams” and sent to Zibby McCleary, director of Alumni Relations, Central Catholic High School, 300 Hampshire St., Lawrence, Ma. 01841. The cost of bricks range from $250 to $1,000. Each brick has one to four lines of text.