With pool failure possible, D200 plots a path forward

The 90-year-old pools are well past their life span

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

With plans to replace the nearly 90-year-old swimming pools at Oak Park and River Forest High School postponed by a failed referendum, officials have started thinking about contingency plans just in case at least one of the existing pools becomes inoperable. 

High school officials have said the two pools, which have anticipated lifespans of 40 to 50 years old, don't currently meet design safety standards "and the mechanicals are so old that replacement parts do not always exist," according to an FAQ posted to the high school's website. 

The pools, officials estimated, leak about 3,000 gallons of water a day and contractors can't guarantee that future repairs to their cracked foundations will be enough to prevent further decay.

A $44.5 million plan to replace the two pools, and the existing parking garage, with a new pool 40-meter swimming pool and a smaller garage on the site where the current one sits failed by just 28 votes during the Nov. 8, 2016 election. The plan would have been funded by up to $25 million worth of bonds.

Officials have noted that it likely won't be until 2018 before another proposal is put before voters. In the meantime, they're mulling backup plans in case either or both of the existing pools fail. 

One of those options, however, will not be funding the entire $44.5 million plan, which was authorized unanimously by the school board last year, with money from the district's roughly $96 million fund balance.

Last month, Tod Altenburg, the district's chief business official, said that doing so would mean "lowering the amount of money available to us in operating funds and if that's the case, then we'll have to go out for a referendum in 2019."

"That would not be in alignment with the finance advisory committee's recommendations," Altenberg said. "That committee made a really in-depth recommendation about dedicating $20 million of fund balance and about [sticking to] a timeline for gradually and responsibly spending down the fund balance within a particular time frame."

During a Dec. 13 special meeting, Phil Prale, D200's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the administration is considering seeking out more community partnerships and changing their course scheduling in anticipation of the pool failure.

"In the eventuality that one of the pools is unavailable, we're down an activity space, so we'd have to figure out how to take our students into classroom spaces," Prale said.

If a pool space becomes unavailable, Prale said, "You're looking at staggering students who would otherwise be taking swimming" into some other activity space. He added that PE teachers would likely have to develop new ["seat-based"] curriculum that isn't centered on physical activity.

Last month, the school board approved a 5-year intergovernmental agreement with the Park District of Oak Park that allows the two entities to share each other's facilities — an arrangement that may prove particularly critical in the months to come. 

From an athletic standpoint, Prale explained, OPRF has partnerships with high schools like [Riverside-Brookfield], which allows the Huskies diving team to practice in its pool facilities.

Those options, however, are limited, he stressed. For instance, that school isn't available to OPRF water polo practices since RB's water polo team would need to utilize the facility at the same time. 

In addition to utilizing other high schools, district officials are exploring future partnerships with entities such as nearby colleges and other local governments. Prale added that costs, such as those related to transportation, staff and security, would have to be considered with those partnerships.

During last month's meeting, district officials also floated the possibility of implementing a swimming exemption, but so far that isn't being seriously considered. 

"We've heard it, it's a thought, but we haven't really thought about how to implement it," said Prale. "We won't say it's off the table, but we don't have additional commentary on that. The devil is always in the details with implementing a policy like that."

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

Reader Comments

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Bill Dwyer  

Posted: January 14th, 2017 3:23 PM

You've touched on a central problem in OP governance, Bridgett. Which is that all that talk about "intergovernmental cooperation" was just and only that - talk. A hundred pounds of dialogue and 10 ounces of follow through.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: January 13th, 2017 10:47 PM

As Jacek brilliantly pointed out, yes, the park district pool is empty right now, because it is winter. So what. And we don't need to build a a bubble over an outdoor pool. for the kids to use it. The point was replacing gym class with a summer school swim program, which would be very easy to do for a tiny fraction of the cost, freeing up millions for other needs and/or saving tax money. We don't have to make what could be very simple into a huge project. Half the kids already know how to swim and could test out of the so called requirement anyway. I realize this kicks the legs out from a reason to build an olympic pool for the 90 kids out of 3300 (2.7%) who are on the swim team, but it perfectly solves the issue of gym class swimming.

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: January 13th, 2017 1:02 PM

Amy, I think the issue was control. D200 wanted full control of not just the RC pool, but the building and the fields. Which makes zero sense for one tax body to have over another taxing body's assets. So it was more that D200 wanted to have their own pool.

Amy Bowen  

Posted: January 13th, 2017 8:48 AM

If someone (from one side or the other of the whole debate, I don't see why the enclosure option would be flat out objectionable to either side unless people fail to see the value of aquatic education and sports entirely) wants to explore the enclosure option further, I'd be glad to co-spearhead something to try to get that idea back afloat, research case studies, etc. I agree 100% OPRF needs a good pool and if we want to support aquatic athletes and get them to the same level OPRF attains in other sports, action is needed, But I don't think it necessarily HAS to be on campus when there's a great existing facility across the street. If school and park districts cannot work together that's a really unfortunate detriment to our students (athletes and recreational) and the community as a whole.

Amy Bowen  

Posted: January 13th, 2017 8:35 AM

More really good info about enclosure options here and how it does not have to be cost prohibitive.... http://www.usaswimming.org/ViewMiscArticle.aspx?TabId=1755&mid=7715&ItemId=3634

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: January 13th, 2017 12:25 AM

Bruce I am tired of a bunch of cheap, grumpy people trying to justify all this bs about the pool. You can blow wind all day along about tax increase there, or too much money here...but what it boils down to is...we have a really nice community with a really good high school with crumbling infrastructure. It needs a new pool! By the time, everyone is done with their whining and a pool actually gets constructed in the not so near future, we will have a Hyundai pool for a Mercedes price tag. I support any and all forms of physical activity for our students. I'm not in the "coupon clipping" mindset when it comes to this. Why can't we have a nice pool, and just call it a day?

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 12th, 2017 6:31 PM

(Continued) In fact, expert opinion changes quite often such that the principles and guidelines of CPR today, might be very different two years from now. In my view that is not true of swimming. Swimming is more akin to learning how to ride a bicycle. Once you know how to ride a bicycle you never forget. Sure you won't be ready for the Tour de France, but you will be ready for recreational riding. Likewise, so it is with swimming.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 12th, 2017 6:28 PM

Ada, I beg to differ. if 50 % of students are proficient in swimming and water safety, why should they be required to take swimming? In my opinion, they should be able to "test" out, much as students who show proficiency in basic introductory English or Mathematics can test out. I believe this is the dominant practice at most schools with pools. A corollary of this belief, is that 50% of students who can not swim should be required to enroll in swimming. I do not dispute that, and I agree with you on this point. Your analogy to CPR instruction is interesting as it does clarify some aspects but obfuscates others. As a critical care physician boarded as well in Cardiology, I have taken numerous CPR courses over my career as well as been involved in countless resuscitations. As such I know, as I am sure you do as well, that one can acquire the necessary skills and knowledge base required for CPR through many different venues. A physician or nurse might take a CPR course at their hospital or at a free standing CPR instructional center. A lay person can take a CPR course through the auspices of the Red Cross. The criteria for proficiency in CPR, whether a health professional or lay person ?" is enrollment and successfully completing a CPR course sanctioned by the American Heart or Red Cross. A card given to the enrollee after successful completion documents "proficiency." This would be analogous to a student presenting to OPRFHS a Red Cross card attesting to proficiency in basic water safety and swimming skills. That knowledge and skill base does not have to be acquired at a specific place; just as acquiring CPR knowledge and skills does not have to delegated to a specific place. Where your analogy breaks down is in the very different nature of swimming and CPR. One of the major reasons why many institutions require that CPR skills be "renewed" every two years is that CPR guidelines ?" the knowledge as well as the skill ?" is based upon expert opinion. In fact

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: January 12th, 2017 5:27 PM

Hi Amy, when Ridgeland Common was being redone a few years back, there was talk between D200 and the Park District. And there were a couple of reasons given that prevented them from being able to collaborate. The reasons given were: a retractable roof was too costly; and the one that seemed to be the biggest hurdle: D200 wanted full control of the fields and the building at Ridgeland Common, and this was, understandably, unacceptable to the Park District.

Amy Bowen  

Posted: January 12th, 2017 1:34 PM

I may be late to the game (admittedly haven't followed this until recently), but is there a compelling reason that something cannot be worked out with the park district to put a bubble over ridgeland in the winter so it could be used year-round? it seems like a huge waste (a) not to use ridgeland's nice pool most of the year and (b) to spend so much building a smaller pool than what would support a top notch program, when the bubble solution would be cheap in relative terms and ridgeland is larger than what's now being proposed.

Jacek Lazarczyk  

Posted: January 12th, 2017 1:22 PM

Just peeked at the Park District pool from the train this morning; there is no water in it, Tom MacMillan!

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: January 12th, 2017 11:01 AM

Our Park District offers a full season pool pass for $62 a person. There are 3300 students at OPRF. We could buy each one of them a pass for $204,000 a year. Toss in some classes as a summer school program and everyone can "learn to swim" at a cost that is enormously less than spending $20 million or $40 million. Students learn to drive in summer school - why not learn to swim the same way? There is no shame in doing things in a smart way for a change and thinking outside the box.

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: January 11th, 2017 8:50 PM

anyone who says that swimming should not be included in the fitness curriculum. Water safety is a valuable lesson to have. 50% know how to swim! What about the other 50% who don't? Who never had the opportunity? I have taken CPR classes more than once b/c I forget more than I know. It's good to refresh your skills. Nurses do it, teachers do it...and we are better for it. I cannot believe all of you who have made this pool your pet project have done such a disservice to our community. Shame on all of you.

Bill Kopper from Oak Park  

Posted: January 11th, 2017 4:54 PM

At $50/hr, that $44.5M would buy 890,000 hours of tutoring to help close the gap. Priorities?

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: January 11th, 2017 3:19 PM

Any failure of the pools would be the full responsibility of the current and previous D200 School Boards, of which three members are seeking re-election on April 4. The sitting school board need look no further than the recommendation of their own expert report to "plot a path forward" in solving the pool problem now. Since March 2013, they have been aware of Stantec Engineering's rational pool solution, an 8-lane, 25-yard modern, standard high school competition pool in the East Pool/South Gym. This pool would rightsize our aquatic facilities and expenditures as Stantec clearly stated our current 11 swim lanes are a luxury. Instead of implementing this logical solution, the school board buried it from the public based on blatantly, false information in a November 12, 2013 Finance Committee memo and aligned itself with the pool lobby and its desire for a 50-meter, Olympic-size pool. During its year-long review, Stantec never considered an Olympic-size pool because it was too large for the space-confined campus. There's no reason for the school board to wait until 2018 to solve the pool problem. They could begin implementing the Stantec rational pool solution today with no referendum. It would cost less than the $20 million in cash reserves that the FAC concluded could be spent on a pool. Since 2013, the two school boards have wasted hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars trying to build an unnecessary, oversized pool to appease a small, special interest group, the pool lobby. This money should have been spent instead on academics and addressing the equity issue at OPRF.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 10th, 2017 9:42 PM

"During last month's meeting, district officials also floated the possibility of implementing a swimming exemption..." Well welcome to the 21st century D200. If a student can produce a red cross card certifying water safety and basic swim skills he or she should be exempt. And alternatively if a student can demonstrate those skills at OPRFHS in front of a swim coach, then that student should also be exempt. Hey, it ain't rocket science, Mr. Prale. The school has already admitted approximately 50% of its freshman and sophomores already know how to swim. The present swim requirements are ridiculous, nonsensical, overly expensive and create an artificial need for excessive pool water. Its time for a change. Now.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: January 10th, 2017 8:10 PM

Three thousand gallons a day lost sounds like a crisis, until you do the math. It costs $3.81 per thousand gallons. So that is $4200 a year, which seems like no big deal compared to what we avoided spending which was $44 million.

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