Thanks to Tony Ambrose

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

Odds and ends with some a bit odder than others:

Chief Ambrose: Tony Ambrose was never going to set a longevity record as Oak Park's police chief. He came to the job late – 34 years into his tenure on the force. But it was the job he wanted and had earned. When Rick Tanksley, the longtime chief did retire in late 2016, Ambrose got the promotion.

Cara Pavlicek, the village manager who made the call, certainly didn't see Ambrose as a placeholder but likely she did see him as a transitional chief, a person who'd spend several years working to make more intuitively institutionalized his views on community policing and the need for cops to understand the intersection between mental health issues and policing.

Instead a bum liver interceded and Ambrose was suddenly in the fight of his life. As his health worsened this spring he was fortunate to get the transplant he needed. When I last talked to him a few weeks back, he was his usual enthusiastic self, though fully aware of the long road ahead of him. He told me it would take the better part of a dedicated year for him to regain his stamina. 

He didn't say it and I didn't ask, but my conclusion then was that the chief knew leaving a police department with an interim leader for a year was not ideal, and he also knew the extraordinary energy it takes to be chief and was uncertain that he'd have that intensity.

So the word Monday that Tony Ambrose will take his retirement before this month ends is not a surprise or a disappointment. This is a good man who has served his department with distinction and who has brought fundamental change to a department he grew up in, which isn't an easy thing to do.

Prejudging Imagine OPRF: The next phases of the master facilities planning process at Oak Park and River Forest High School are coming shortly. The two options packages — inevitably blue and orange by name — are being folded into one proposal (with a couple of variations built in): The first broad cost options on some aspects of the proposal are being developed, another round of public input will be sought. And then, soon, the whole kit 'n' caboodle will arrive at the school board's feet.

Sat last week with the two chairs of Imagine OPRF, Lynn Kamenitsa and Mike Poirier. Back in the day when this half-decade long and ill-thought-out facilities mish mash was haplessly reduced to do you want a big pool or a bigger pool, these two were on opposite sides. Now they are paired in the effort that should have been undertaken years back: Step back, big picture, 100-year-old building with shiny floors masking a facility where the last major investment was an addition built in 1967.

This has been a large effort by a large group of dedicated volunteers. It encompasses a vast array of ideas from creating new common areas for students, remaking the cafeteria, moving the library, rethinking how classrooms are used, creating unified space for special education services, expanding facilities for all kinds of arts, trying to reduce the number of windowless classrooms buried in the building's vast interior, debating the future of a structurally sound but obsolete field house and, of course, making a proposal for a swimming pool (or pools).

Also taking shape now are plans for how to undertake what is a potentially massive project and set priorities and logical phases. Those priorities need to reflect construction realities — you can remake the cafeteria but you still need to feed kids nine months of the year — and financing options for a project that will be at least five years and likely 10 years in the execution. 

The challenges are many. One of them is to hold the attention of the villages that this is a master plan for a million-square-foot building and not let it devolve simplistically into a second round of a pool debate.

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Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: August 13th, 2018 8:55 PM

There are hundreds of buildings in town that are over 100 years old. Using that as a justification to rip apart OPRF at a massive cost to citizens, who recently voted NO to the idea of doing this project, is no justification at all. The so called dedicated volunteers need to dedicate their attention to something else.

Leslie Sutphen  

Posted: August 11th, 2018 9:34 PM

"debating the future of a structurally sound but obsolete field house and, of course, making a proposal for a swimming pool (or pools)." I wish there were some debate about this. In fact, there are very few details about why it is necessary to tear down 1/3 the school and build a new fieldhouse. There are vague comments from the Committee and the architects about how the fieldhouse is an inefficient use of space and needs to be repurposed and how it is impossible to do that without tearing down the whole thing. There are no cost figures being offered by the Committee to date. In the mean time, we can look at something that was proposed by the previous school architects in May 2016 (see our comment elsewhere in this paper) that involves tearing down the fieldhouse and putting in a large pool and 200 meter indoor track and other academic facilities. The cost was $90 million to $150 million just for this piece. Surely we can be more IMAGIN(E)ative than that! In May 2016, the D200 Board did not even consider this disruptive and expensive option. What has changed?

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: August 11th, 2018 2:31 PM

"The challenges are many. One of them is to hold the attention of the villages that this is a master plan for a million-square-foot building and not let it devolve simplistically into a second round of a pool debate." What would help avoid this, is if from the get go, when costs are revealed, that they be broken out, rather than everything lumped together. When D200 finally did this the last go around (only after being asked repeatedly to do so) is when I was able to make an informed decision, based on facts rather than marketing, as to whether or not I supported the referendum. Some of the things you mention in this piece, Dan, such as flexible classrooms, are already being implemented, without the need for additional tax dollars, at reasonable costs, and without the need of an architect, who, an important point to keep in mind, makes more money the higher the price tag of the project.

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