OPRF cafeteria, pool upgrades are nearly complete

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Renovations to Oak Park and River Forest High School's cafeteria and pool areas, estimated at more than $3 million, are nearly 90 percent complete with the remaining work to be finished by early 2006.

Renovations began in June. Work on the East and West pools nearly topped $2 million while the student cafeterias totaled $1.5 million. Additional work included repairs made to the dean's offices, fieldhouse, fire alarms, and heating and cooling systems.

In addition to the upgrades, a number of preservation issues were addressed, namely to the decorative tiling in the East and West (girls and boys) pools. Oak Park preservationists and some alumni feared that the tiling would be destroyed as the pool received a new deck surface.

The tiny tiles, slightly smaller than a 3-inch floppy computer disk and numbering in the dozens, are faced with carvings of frogs, crabs, carps, lotuses and crawfish. The carvings date back to the 1920s.

"It was a typical clash between function and history," said Jack Lanenga, the school's assistant superintendent for operations. "We looked at this deck, and we were having a terrible time keeping it cleaned. Second of all, the tiles were chipping. We thought, 'This isn't safe.' Kids are getting cut. It was also slippery. So we thought it was obvious to change it."

The tiles from the West Pool were removed, cleaned and stored at the school. The school has offered to donate some of the tiles to the Alumni Association and the Historical Society, Lanenga said. OPRF will keep and catalog what remains.

Although the East Pool received stainless steel edging, the checkered tiling at the edge of the West Pool was preserved.

Other repairs, though less tedious were nonetheless extensive. The discovery and removal of asbestos in the ceilings, water pipes and electrical lines pushed the project slightly over budget. The ceiling ventilation in both pools was eventually upgraded, allowing for much cooler air to circulate throughout the area.

"[We] would be soaking wet with sweat in the old days," Lanenga said. "The number one seat was always the one by the door because that was the only place where the air moved."

The seating rails received fenced grating to prevent children from slipping through and falling to the pool area below. The ceiling lighting was also improved in both pools areas. Both installed new seating for the disabled.

Another restoration project involved the life-sized, Greek-style bar relief artwork surrounding the East Pool. The elevated "nymph" statuettes also date back to the 1920s and were coated over the years with layer upon layer of paint. The dozen or so ladies received a "swan-like" makeover, priced around $50,000. The overall repairs were long overdue, said Lanenga.

"The pool has been a hassle for a long, long time," he said. "The kitchens, we hope can improve business and service."

Both cafeteriasâ€"one for freshmen, the other for seniors, juniors and sophomoresâ€"were dramatically upgraded. New ceilings, lights and cooling systems were installed. The kitchens, untouched for years, were brought up to code with all new pots, boilers, ovens and grills.

The kitchens also received new dishwashers and its first automatic pot scrubber, allowing workers to save a little extra elbow grease. The work was completed by the first day of school. Additional repairs to the floors will take place this winter, Lanenga said. All of the renovations should be completed by 2006, coinciding with OPRF's 100th anniversary.

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com


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