By Terry Dean
The swimming pool debacle continues at Oak Park and River Forest High School. And now it appears to have cost the school's long-time architectural firm its role at the school.
OPRF has taken a step toward parting ways with their firm of more than two decades and has hired a new architect to oversee renovation work at the school.
The District 200 Board of Education on Dec. 16 approved Chicago-based Legat Architects as its new firm. Wight and Company, based in Darien, has been the school's construction firm for roughly 20 years but has come under fire for its handling of upgrades to OPRF's boys and girls swimming pools.
The pools were renovated over the summer but have remained closed while awaiting a health inspection from the state. Wight was not only the school's architect but also had oversight of construction projects through companies they contract with. The school, however, will now split up those responsibilities. Legat will serve as architect but will not be responsible for construction. The school instead will hire separate firms to do the actual construction work, with Legat serving as a consultant.
Having those shared responsibilities appeared to have been the undoing of Wight's relationship with OPRF with respect to the swimming pools. Wight completed the pools in August but didn't have a proper permit to do the work, which included upgrades to the pools drainage system to meet new state safety guidelines. The Illinois Department of Public Health in September fined the company $20,000.
The department conducts a "dry" and "wet" inspection before giving the go-ahead for the pools to be reopened. OPRF had been waiting for the department to schedule an inspection for much of the fall. A wet inspection was finally scheduled for this month, but had to be delayed because OPRF pools were found to be leaking.
Speaking to Wednesday Journal shortly after the board's decision, Principal Nathaniel Rouse said that once the leaks were discovered, they asked for the inspection to be rescheduled, tentatively, for Jan 3.
Both pool floors are being sealed to stop the leakage, he explained. Rouse concluded that the age of the pools — more than 80 years old — and some of the machinery used during the original renovation this summer may have jarred loose some of the floor tiles. Rouse said Wight is handling this latest fix.
The pools have been closed to physical education classes and to both the girls and boys swimming teams, which were forced to conduct practices and "home" meets at other facilities. The situation has angered parents of swimmers, who have accused the school of not communicating with them on all that was going on.
District 200 board President Dietra Millard, speaking to the Journal last Friday, said Wight will complete the latest work on the pools, as well as other small projects around the school the company has going. She stressed that the school's main focus is getting the pools reopened.
As for Wight's working relationship with OPRF moving forward, Millard said, "Whether Wight will do any work for us in the future, probably not, but that has not yet been determined. We plan to have a debriefing with them first and go from there."
Wight was also chided earlier this spring by Millard and other board members for underestimating the cost of this summer's overall construction projects by $2 million.