When Tom Powers returned to Oak Park and River Forest High School as a volunteer with District 200's Imagine OPRF work group — formed in the spring to evaluate the district's facilities needs and to recommend improvements to the school board next year — he hadn't anticipated finding his old biology classroom in roughly the same condition it was in when he graduated in 1995.
"It had the exact same furniture and layout," Powers said. "It had the same desks. I was like, 'Wow, these are still here.'"
Powers, like many of the roughly four dozen other colleagues who have joined Imagine, are becoming intimate with OPRF's more than 100-year-old campus in order to figure out ways to bring the 20th-century structure into the 21st.
Most members of the work group who were interviewed said they've been both alarmed by the building's condition and impressed by how well it's been maintained despite its age.
"The room right next door to my old classroom had been updated, so things weren't old across the board," Powers, a civil engineer by trade, said during a recent phone interview.
He is co-chair of what's called the Physical Condition Sub-Work Group — one of four sub-work groups that make up Imagine. He said his group is responsible for evaluating the structure of the campus and things like parking, information technology, and security, and analyzing from an engineering standpoint the feasibility of the recommendations made by the other three groups.
So far, Powers said, despite the campus' age, its underlying structure is pretty much intact and well maintained.
"They have an automatic control system, the equipment is maintained on a regular schedule, they have a new chiller," he noted.
Renee Bell, a mother of two OPRF students and co-chair of the sub-work group that is looking into how the campus accommodates athletics and other extracurricular activities, said her group has so far found that scheduling issues and overcrowding are concerns common across the whole Imagine work group. Like Powers, she had her own moment when touring the campus.
"I have to say, looking through the school, it's a very beautiful facility, and there's a lot of history, but I was appalled at the state of some of the spaces," said Bell, who runs training and development for an executive search firm. "I had no idea that this is what my kids lived through every day."
Audrey Lee, chair of the performing and fine arts sub-work group, who has a son who plays drums at OPRF, said musicians "pretty much play in the hallways during class time" because the band room is so overcrowded.
"Those teachers are making do and making a lot of stuff work in ways that are amazing," Lee, an HR professional, said.
The 42-member Imagine work group includes 31 community members (out of the 90 applicants who applied), along with about a dozen high school faculty members, staff and teachers embedded in work groups to provide expertise.
The community members said they're just getting beyond the evaluation phase, which involves painstakingly mapping out every sports and extracurricular space on campus. They'll make final recommendations to the school board next summer.
The Imagine group is seeking public feedback at a community meeting on Nov. 15 at OPRF, 201 N. Scoville Ave., from 7 to 9 p.m.
Answer Book 2017
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