What District 97 school yard needs the most attention? Tell us

Playgrounds, outdoor equipment among areas targeted


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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

When Oak Park voters OK'd a tax hike for District 97 early this month, they knew they were saving art, music, drama and extracurriculars. But district officials also said they'd use "modest amounts" of the new money to fund expansion of technology in classrooms, and to pay attention to school grounds that have been virtually ignored — beyond basic maintenance — over recent years.

The district has talked about using outside spaces to create natural classrooms similar to what colleges do with their science classes.

Superintendent Albert Roberts has promoted the idea of turning playgrounds into "outdoor classrooms." He recommended spending nearly $3 million of their referendum funds on that objective and has long maintained that improving school grounds was among their priorities in seeking a tax increase.

"There are some physical needs that need to be taken consideration of," he said. "We've talked about active bodies and active minds and there are green spaces that we can use for educational purposes that's a part of our overall strategy as well for the security of our youngsters."

Roberts has also talked about moving away from referring to outdoor space simply as "playgrounds," and instead encouraging people to think of the space as "outdoor classrooms." In terms of physical education, Roberts insists having kids outdoors will also help combat childhood obesity.

"The ability to use our classroom spaces outdoors, getting kids active and moving, utilizing school gardens, and really having kids participating in outdoor life is an important part of our plan," Roberts said previously.

Norman Lane, the district's building and grounds director, told Wednesday Journal last week about a few other wish-list possibilities — replacing some of the old playground equipment is one item. Lane said it's a matter of safety with the equipment, some of which is pretty old. School officials have also pointed to the mud hole that the front lawn of Percy Julian Middle School has devolved into.

At the PTO level, individual schools have talked up such projects for years. PTOs at various elementary or middle schools have paid for such items as swings, vegetable gardens and outdoor patios. Many of the schools, meanwhile, share or utilize park district grounds and facilities located near their schools.

Still, families from the various schools have argued for more green space. Parents at Irving, 1125 S. Cuyler Ave., for example, have been working the last four years on a plan to replace the enormous blacktop area at their school. Their plans call for green space, athletic fields and improved play areas for kids, in addition to a relocated parking lot for building staff.

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Jennifer Norborg  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 4:26 PM

Just going on the record to say THANK YOU to Jason Malley for a lovely, generous offer. As an Irving parent, it truly made my day!

OP Parent  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 11:14 AM

I would love for both middle schools to get a playground. I am not holding my breath, though. It seems that no one likes middle-schooler--all I hear is how awful an age it is, and why cant' they just grow up. Personally, I think a play area would do them some good. Also, Beye's play area is terrible. So much has just disintegrated or fallen off. In my personal opinion, it needs to be fixed or taken down. The rings alone are a menace and so many kids have broken arms and legs to show for it.

No Chubby Children! from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 5:03 AM

Let's determine "greatest need" in our schools (and therefore the distribution of playground upgrade dollars) by the level of obesity in each school. We can see how fat the average child is at each school, then make sure that the outdoor creative play space they are given addresses their specific body issues. It's the only fair way....otherwise, you're just stealing their perfect childhood from them...

Kathy from Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2011 7:06 PM

I'm under the impression that neither middle school has a playground, but I've only seen Julian mentioned here. Does Brooks have one, after all? (Or is Julian's loitering space simply more visible?) If not, that's a definite need. Despite the lack of a shared property line, couldn't park dist & D97 somehow join forces to do something with Irving space? (Space permitting, maybe a turf field or recess use during school hours & for youth sports practices during weekends & evenings.)

Oaks and Parks  

Posted: April 25th, 2011 6:21 PM

I think $$'s should be appropriated based on who pays the most in taxes. If you pay more, you have better facilities. Oldest gets renovated first. Oh, and if you can't take care of your things, that's your problem!

OPRF Neighbor  

Posted: April 25th, 2011 5:57 PM

Susan's correct - I live near the HS and I can tell D97 prepared these kids for creative use of outdoor space based on what they do in my yard and alley during lunch hour.

Susan Raphael from oak park  

Posted: April 25th, 2011 5:35 PM

Of all the D97 schools, Irving has the greatest need for a new outdoor space. Irving students to have the same opportunities for outdoor space as students of other D97 schools. Outdoor space is essential for the educational well being of our children, even more imp. than smart boards. And it is time for Irving students to have quality space in order to be children, be creative, and explore nature. $ should not be distributed equally, but to the schools w/the greates need.

Interesting from Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2011 12:47 PM

@Steve. No, my point was that, like Carrol/Lincoln, Longfellow, Hatch, Whittier, Mann, Holmes, Beye, etc - most schools are either attached to parks/athletic fields and/or are the ONLY "park" within walking distance. Their school yards/parks therefore serve dual purposes for their neighborhoods. Irving, because of nearby Rehm and Barrie, does not need to. BTW, whenever I pass school yards - the kids are overwhelmingly "playing" on the asphalt during recess/lunch/after school - not the grass/mud.

Steve from Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2011 12:38 PM

So Rehm and Barrie are only two blocks away. So my children should walk two blocks each way (during school) for recess?

Mark from Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2011 12:16 PM

Julian needs much work on the west side of the school. It looks horrible, and this very busy area is seen by more persons than any other D97 school.

Earl from Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2011 12:08 PM

Smitty This is Oak Park and thus is not called blacktop but "person of color top" and, by the way, that surface is not different than gravel or grass and deserves the same chances. If it cracks, its not the fault of the person of color top" but must be blamed on something that happened 100 years ago

Smitty from Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2011 12:05 PM

I am a believer in blacktop only because of the number of people with dogs that let them run around in the school grass and dont clean up the crap left behind. At least on blacktop a kid could see it.

Interesting from Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2011 11:41 AM

Drive by OP schools and observe that Irving's asphalt is not extreme - but their total lot size is probably the smallest in OP - therefore, very little room for grass and fields. Most schools are either attached to parks or have no parks nearby. Irving has both Rehm and Barrie only 2 blocks away. Irving's "hope" is very expensive and I'd "hope" that scarce ed/taxpayer dollars would be used more prudently and based on educational "needs," not parental/emotional "wants." "Waste Land" is right.

80s-90s Holmes Student from Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2011 11:24 AM

The playground at Holmes was paid for (and assembled!) by the PTO in the early 90s. There were 'penny festivals' where all the parents and students would come and donate their spare change to help fund the project. In the end they still didnt have enough funds to have it paid for and installed, so our parents were the ones to assemble the structure, with supervision of course. It still looks amazing. Its hard to believe its been there this long (about 18-19 years).

Why Support Irving School? from North Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2011 9:48 AM

What ever happened to the plan to attach cooling units to the slides at Holmes school? The aluminum gets pretty hot in the middle of the summer.


Posted: April 24th, 2011 6:49 AM

@Waste List - Hands down funniest comment ever!

Waste List  

Posted: April 23rd, 2011 9:27 AM

Everyone knows people move here for the school playgrounds; if we don't renovate the schoolyards our property values will plummet. Perhaps we can use building bonds for the renovation of the school yards then we won't need to call this referendum money.


Posted: April 23rd, 2011 9:12 AM

Katherine, take a look at the Irving schoolyard link. they still have blacktop, it's just that there is more to it than blacktop (unlike the way it is today.)

Laura Crawford  

Posted: April 23rd, 2011 8:44 AM

Also, there is certainly a distinction between the playground equipment and the general schoolyard at Irving. As we wait the ability to move ahead with the schoolyard improvement, the play equipment is slowly deteriorating. Our challenge is how to improve something we hope to change in the near future without spending too much money. We know the kids have a great time when they play outside now, but they deserve better.

Laura Crawford  

Posted: April 23rd, 2011 8:42 AM

As an Irving parent, thanks to so many of you who support improving the grounds at our school. Our PTO has been raising funds from parents for the Schoolyard Project for years in order to plan enough to solicit additional funds from private and public bodies for these efforts. This project hopes to be a partnership of funding sources.

Katherine from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2011 7:24 AM

Gotta have SOME blacktop: where else do you play jump rope, 4-square, and wall-ball? Great place to learn to ride your bike for the first time too!


Posted: April 23rd, 2011 7:18 AM

darn this character limit. What I meant to say is I CAN support it, as long as (1) PTO at least partially pays for it and (2) needed repairs and redos are done at other schools. I do salute the Irving people for vision.


Posted: April 23rd, 2011 7:16 AM

@Former, we get it about the blacktop; most agree it shd come up. I don't know if I can support all of what is on the Irving master plan as long as it's funded at least partially by PTO (http://grid.platformpublicaffairs.com/irvingschoolyard/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/reduced-flyer-final.pdf) Outdoor classrooms, walking paths, wetlands and nature zones, all sound nice, but all the schools need safe places for the kids to play, and right now, we don't have that.

Corynne Romine from Oak Park  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 10:35 PM

Irving Elementary students have had a blacktop as their "field space" for way too long. And yes, I do know of one arm that was broken on it. I think everything that Irving parents and staff have done to re-make the schoolyard is wonderful; at the same time, I do think the District has a responsibility too.

Interesting from Oak Park  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 7:45 PM

@Former Irving Parent. Irving has had this blacktop for at least 50 years. I acknowledge its ugliness, but I'm completely unaware why you write that it's "hazardous"? Other than scraped knees - which happen at all schools - what are you referring to? Are the kids frequently falling on their heads? Broken bones? Brain injuries? Epidemic of accidents? I'm probably as familiar, if not more so, than you are with Irving - and am completely unaware of any safety issues with the asphalt.

Former Irving Parent from Oak Park  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 7:10 PM

You are all missing the point. It's not the playground that needs to be replaced at Irving. It's the blacktop that is not only unattractive, but hazardous. The PTO's can take care of playground equipment, but the blacktop should be on the district.

Anne B. from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 5:16 PM

Our family would favor replacing the very old, smaller playground at Longfellow School. I'm sure the PTO would contribute, as all D.97 PTOs do - fundraising events are meant to be fun and raise money for enrichment programs and the "extras" that make each school a better place for kids.


Posted: April 22nd, 2011 4:51 PM

@Former OP resident made me laugh. Gravel! EXCELLENT idea. Have you been around middle-school boys lately (and for that matter, girls). Everyone at that school would be bloodied and battered from all the gravel-throwing. Plus, fun for passing motorists.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 4:26 PM

The mud pit at Julian started off as a sodding project back in the summer of 2007 or 2008 I believe. I was surprised at the timing of the job since it happened during the summer heat and it was rarely watered. The sod eventually died off and was never replaced. In fact, I believe Julian has been resodded twice since 2005 (correct me if I am wrong)and both times the sod never took since it wasn't properly maintained. I just wonder what the cost was for those efforts?

Interesting from Oak Park  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 4:11 PM

And I forgot to add the price of oil and the cost to fill our cars. Food, too. Have a nice day!

Interesting from Oak Park  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 4:04 PM

Isn't it nice, though, that we can give serious debate to something as trivial as this? The world may be in flames, S&P threatening to lower the AAA rating of US, we're involved in 3 wars, economic angst world wide is epidemic, the US govt runs annual debts of $1.6T, state of IL is fairly broke (esp pensions), many college grads can't get jobs, etc. and we're writing about (myself included!) what to do with an expensive non-ed matter with our schools?!? Next? Counting angels on pinheads?


Posted: April 22nd, 2011 3:37 PM

Which playground is the oldest? That's the one that should be first in line for upgrading. The very idea that Irving should go ahead because their parents were instrumental in passing the referendum sounds very Chicago ward politics to me. Is that what we're going for here? I prefer the idea that PTO's raise money and fund it by themselves. Communities investing in their community.

Brooke Randazzo Eggert from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 3:21 PM

As a Beye parent, I know there are things on our playground that need to be repaired and repainted. There were 4-5 kids this past fall who broke a limb (one of my son's included) on the playground equipment. We have a zip glider that is about 7 feet off the ground. But at least we even have a playground to complain about. Iriving students deserve a green space. That blacktop is hideous and it all needs to be renovated. Next up, Julian needs something besides a mud pit also.

Former OP resident  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 10:55 AM

Hemingway was so true so many years ago, this is the 'city of wide lawns and narrow minds'. Never had grass on the playground at Hawthorne till they bought the homes across the street and tore them down. Just wasting money the old fashioned way. With respect to the 'Mud pit' use the fine gravel and you should be good for many years.

Interesting from Oak Park  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 10:26 AM

The Irving asphalt area is huge. Here's a link from the Irving PTO regarding their plans: http://www.irving-pto.com/images/stories/documents/BoardPresentation.pdf. It takes a while to download. If, per PT @5:26am, "A modern playground alone is $100k plus" - what do you think the Irving plan would cost? FWIW, Irving, due to asphalt, is used in all weather. Drive by during lunch - it is heavily used by kids for sports and running around. "Grass" nice? Yes, but this is solution seeking problem.

Jason Malley  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 10:13 AM

Hi My name is Jason Malley. I am a Longfellow parent. My vote is to give Irving school some green space, for the kids. I have a strong back, plenty of tools a wheelbarrow and a willingness to help. Please put my name at the top of the list to volunteer to tear up the blacktop at Irving. Best regards, Jason.

Be careful what you wish for....  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 10:06 AM

If you tear up Irving where are the tball and girls softball teams going to practice? That space is valuable especially when the weather is crummy like it has been this Spring.


Posted: April 22nd, 2011 9:24 AM

Yes, I am pretty sure Irving was instrumental in passing the referendum. Thanks, BTwW.

Adam Smith  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 9:14 AM

Wish list - use volunteer labor and materials - put the money in reserve.

OP Resident @44219  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 9:02 AM

The Irving playground had a lot to do with the referendum. There was a question of whether they plans would go ahead if the referendum didn't pass, it had been in the planning. The answer was no. The parents got mobilized the referendum got its margin of victory. Wouldn't it be great to see a OP Precinct breakdown of the vote?


Posted: April 22nd, 2011 8:43 AM

@Done, I heard more than a year ago that improvements to the playgrounds and grounds were part of the post-referendum budget. (as well as improvements in technology, increased spanish instuction, etc.) Personally, I think it's great, because everyone uses our playgrounds. It would be nice if they were safe.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 8:36 AM

I thought the referendum was for saving teacher's jobs, school programs, pensions and having money for when the money "isn't there". But beautifying school grounds? I'm all for it, but when the district cries poor, passes a referendum, and then comes up with projects that weren't part of the need for money, I have a bit of a problem with that. Now I'm even more content with my "no" vote.


Posted: April 22nd, 2011 8:25 AM

Holmes does not keep a playground maintenance line item.


Posted: April 22nd, 2011 5:42 AM

@Interesting, thanks for that clarification--I know there is a very ambitious project planned for Irving, and active fundraising. I don't know much about it, but wondered why there wasn't an attempt to partner with the Park District in remediating the grass? Maybe the field is too small or the PD's fund doesn't allow for it. I do agree that blacktop probably isn't the best thing for kids to play on, though the school has made the most of it--the play equipment is fun and the kids enjoy it.


Posted: April 22nd, 2011 5:36 AM

Since this is a wish list, I think the kids at Julian need a playground, or at least somewhere to run around and burn off steam. Right now, they have to stand around on the pavement, looking like vagrants. They may look like grown-ups, but they are still kids. They didn't forget to play over the summer between fifth and sixth grade.

Peter Traczyk  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 5:26 AM

Cont'd: History aside, viewpoints have changed and everyone agrees kids and community benefit from access to greenspace, including Irving. Embedded in the referendum sizing was a placeholder amount of $150k per school to use on school grounds between now and 2018. A modern playground alone is $100k plus. Perhaps a mini-master planning process at each school is needed to determine how best to use this limited resource the community has given D97. Please continue to share your wish list ideas.

Peter Traczyk  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 5:11 AM

Beye PTO did purchase the current equipment and also added a swing-set last year, at the encouragement of the school Physical Therapist. Play is an important part of the school day. Schools that share lot-lines with the Parks (Mann & Lincoln) benefited from their Master Plan improvements. Former Parks head John Hedges told me all of the schools' greenspaces where installed by the Parks in the 80's. He said the Irving janitor at the time convinced the Principal to turn it down to avoid the "mud"

Wish List  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 1:02 AM

@interesting, are you saying the equipment at Irving is a hundred years old? It has probably been redone several times since the school opened. And recess is only 15-20minutes, defeats having it if the kids just walking the whole time.

Wish List  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 1:00 AM

Seeing how this is a wish list, let upgrade Whittier's EC playground.


Posted: April 21st, 2011 11:50 PM

PTO MOM If Whittier's playground was 14yrs ago, Holmes is probably older. It looks a little more worn than Whittier's. And six years ago, when I took my son there, it looked worn. Great playground though! And check to see if Holmes PTO maintains a "playground maintenance" line item. Whittier's does.


Posted: April 21st, 2011 11:46 PM

Somehow, this started with Irving. The school that has the greatest need for a new playground is Longfellow. I know the PTO has been trying to figure out a way to raise funds for that for over a year. I'm pretty sure it's the one referred to during the referendum although no one said it. I hope they get it. 14yrs ago, Whittier's playground was around 80thousand which is really far from millions. I think the park district paid 250k for the one at Longfellow Park.

Katherine from Oak Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 11:29 PM

(I'm Whittier Playground co-chair) Massive PTO fundraising (including CDBG) funded playground 14 years ago, w/subsequent addition of trees. Later, the since-ousted business manager wouldn't cooperate with water fountain project, but that's another story... Years ago, D97 requested PTOs set aside annual $ to fund future repairs to playgrounds. Still happening? Check w/your PTO.

Interesting from Oak Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 10:24 PM

@OP. Ripping up the asphalt, reconfiguring the parking lot, putting in new fields, drainage, etc - will cost millions. It's a very big area. Are we in agreement that "millions" is too much? If it is less, than I can support it. Tanya C - for almost 100 years the Irving kids have been able to "burn up energy" on the existing surface and playground - this proposal has NOTHING to do with "energy" - it's solely about grass - which will soon turn to dirt and mud. Barrie/Rehm are only 2 blks away.


Posted: April 21st, 2011 10:12 PM

PTO, I don't think Tanya is saying that Holmes paid for its playground anytime in the past 6 years--I have lived here for 13 years and its playground has been there for at least that long. It's a great playground!

PTO mom  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 10:06 PM

TanyaC, not sure where you're getting your info but in the last 6 years that I have been a Holmes parent, our PTO has not provided funds for any of the playground equipment.


Posted: April 21st, 2011 9:27 PM

Also, who said anything about "milliions for a playground"?


Posted: April 21st, 2011 9:26 PM

I agree with Tanya. Just because we are going through a tough patch doesn't mean we should give up.


Posted: April 21st, 2011 9:04 PM

@Interesting...YES! There's lots of data. Think of this way, you spend 2 hours in a meeting and get a break...go get coffee...smoke a cig...take walk...phone a friend and back to the meeting ready to hear what's next, Playgrounds are that for kids. In their case, they need to burn off energy.

Interesting from Oak Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 8:58 PM

Just asking, but is there ANY reason, in these challenging economic times, to spend millions on a school playground? Do we have a report from somewhere that makes clear that "school playground in grass leads to better test scores"? Or guaranteed admission to Princeton? Can't we save some money and move the kids, via chopper, to Rehm or Barrie - only two blocks away?

Former Irving Parent from Oak Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 8:49 PM

Maybe the playgrounds were paid for by the PTO's but not the green space around the school. I hope that Concerned Resident is only speaking about Irving being bad when it comes to the look of it on the blacktop side. Obviously, I would agree that it is in much need of attention, otherwise, it's one of the best schools in Oak Park and it deserves better.


Posted: April 21st, 2011 8:36 PM

OP, I don't know if Beye's PTO paid for it. I know Whittier and Holmes (the playground that deserves its own zip code) paid for theirs.


Posted: April 21st, 2011 8:27 PM

About the mud-hole in front of Julian--I was there the other day, and it truly is a disaster. But i was thinking, was this just bad design? I don't know how putting in more grass would help, because they herd the kids out there at lunch and all they do is stand around and get yelled at if they step on the grass. I think it's a good idea to make it look better, if only for morale, but maintanance seems like a recipe for failure.


Posted: April 21st, 2011 8:25 PM

Did the district pay for the old ones? I don't know. I seem to remember hearing that Beye's playground was put in with PTO money and parent labor, but that was just something the people who sold us our house told us. Time has shown that if that was a lie, it was the least of the ones they told us. :-)


Posted: April 21st, 2011 8:16 PM

Let's get Beye a new playground. I just wonder what a playground paid for by the district will look like.


Posted: April 21st, 2011 7:19 PM

I think that Beye's PTO raised money for swings. The rest of the playground is a hazard. Missing parts, and I don't mean a bolt here and there.


Posted: April 21st, 2011 7:10 PM

All schools should have outdoor classrooms. Whittier's kids would like to have swings.

Concerned Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 7:03 PM

As a bike rider who visits schools often, I have noticed that some schools are "bike friendly" and some that aren't. Holmes and Beye are quite bike friendly. Visitors can easily park on racks there. What about the others? We need this in these environmentally challenging times.

Concerned Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 7:01 PM

Irving School! It's been bad ever since I've lived here (over 30 years). It looks like an inner city school from the Ridgeland side. It gives a very poor impression to all.


Posted: April 21st, 2011 6:52 PM

Actually, most of the updated playgrounds were paid for PTOs, which I always thought was shocking. Over 10 yrs ago, Whittier's PTO funded their playground and 2 yrs ago paid for gardens and outdoor classrooms. Thanks to Supt. Roberts for recognizing their things the district NEEDS to pay for. I glad Irving's kids will get an updated playground.

Kim Gerns from Oak Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 6:42 PM

How is this even a conversation? Irving is the only school that has a playground that is a blacktop! Some things never change

Former Irving Parent from Oak Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 6:42 PM

Actually, Irving School has been trying to get greenspace for over 10 years! It's the only school that doesn't have greenspace and it's about time they stopped ignoring Irving. Other schools have gotten renovations and new equipment. Why is Irving the only school that has to raise the funds for the same things the other schools are getting?

Paul Rubio from Oak Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 6:02 PM

I feel that Irving School should have the oppportunity to have its playground space renovated to include more green grass space in the midst of all the blacktop there. When I was a student there over 10 years ago, I wished, from time to time, that we had grass like all other schools.

But we only have blacktop! from op  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 5:40 PM

Oh, here we go...which school is most entitled to get something? Let the battle of the helicopter parents begin! (PS - whichever school "wins" maybe take a look at which playground types have the lowest overall costs of maintenance over time and you could do more than one school!)

Irving parent from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 5:39 PM

Irving has a tiny woodchip playground area and a huge blacktop area--no green space whatsoever. Everyone assumes it's a parking lot! All of the other schools have gotten upgrades over the years. It's Irving's turn.

Equity for the Kids from Oak Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 5:30 PM

It's time to put some money and effort into improving the Irving School playground. Kids need grass to play on, but right now all they have is blacktop. Beyond that, how about some new playground equipment? Kids on the south side deserve to have a safe to play during school and also after school, even if the school is not associated with a Park District facility. The choice is obvious. Do the right thing, D97 decision-makers.

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