This story was updated Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, at 9:10 p.m. with more information.
Eleventh grader Christina Fischborn stood on her school's athletic field Wednesday morning and recalled a time she was playing soccer after a hard rain.
"I went to go save one of the balls, and I fell. When I stood up, all my clothes were just soaking wet. Because the field is kind of at an angle, so the water just doesn't have anywhere to escape," said Fischborn, who plays soccer and lacrosse, pointing to where puddles remained from Monday night's rain.
A handful of her classmates at Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, each with a similar story, stood alongside her and celebrated that soon the field will get a $5 million makeover. The project was announced in May as part of the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation's BlueCross Healthy Place initiatives.
Wednesday's groundbreaking marked the beginning of the construction phase for a number of facilities and amenities on the 4-acre site between Hawthorne Street and South Orchard Knob Avenue, including:
— A pavilion for community gatherings.
— A walking track.
— Sports courts.
— Accessible playgrounds.
— A 40-yard dash and challenge course.
— A multipurpose field with bleachers.
— A concession area.
"It's definitely gonna be awesome," Fischborn said, "just having a level field, and not worrying about if you're going to step in a pothole and like twist your ankle."
Jaelen Banks and Sean Besley, seventh graders at neighboring Chattanooga Preparatory School, had just finished donning hard hats and shoveling dirt into a ditch on the field that their school shares with CGLA.
The boys couldn't remember that the occasion was called a "groundbreaking" — just that it was the first step toward having new basketball courts. They said right now their school doesn't have a place for them to play basketball, which is their favorite sport.
If construction goes as planned, Highland Park residents and students at the neighborhood's two charter schools will be able to use the complex by next school year.
The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation awarded the grant for the project to the Young Women's Leadership Academy Foundation, the founding sponsor of CGLA. Though the school renovated its Hutton Gymnasium in 2017, it has never had full fields and fitness areas.
Elaine Swafford, executive director of CGLA, said the school had been trying to find a partner to help renovate the field when it applied for the BlueCross Healthy Place grant.
"We didn't know how we were going to get that done," she said. "When the grant came, it was just really a blessing for this community and for both schools."
BlueCross Healthy Place projects are grant-funded and focus on providing active, fun facilities that enhance the health and wellness of the community. The Highland Park space is one of four others in the state and the first in Chattanooga.
Construction costs will total about $4.2 million, with the rest of the investment going toward ongoing maintenance costs to keep up the facility, for a project total of over $5 million. The Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga will manage those funds.