Pool party

Opinion: Columns

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There are a number of threads coming together right now at Oak Park and River Forest High School. And it feels quite purposeful. There is a broad strategic plan nearly done. A long-term facilities plan for the massive plant over on Scoville Avenue has just been unfurled, which ties back neatly to the strategic plan. And an impressive ad hoc committee is assessing the school's overall financial picture, including the oversized cash reserve.

Over the course of just the next couple of months, these three initiatives will be coming together and a very clear picture of this critical institution's mid-term to long-term future will be clear.

Last week, the school's finance committee took a look at the facilities committee report, early details of which had been reported by the Journal back in February. There are two main initiatives here.

Facing notably higher enrollment projections in the next few years, the school is considering major realignment of classroom space on the second, third and fourth floors with an eye to teachers sharing classrooms and sharing "faculty studios" or collaborative spaces. It reflects both a way to house more students, but more notably, suggests evolution in styles of teaching and team teaching. The cost of these changes is pegged at $40 million.

The facility plan also, inevitably, addresses the school's obsolete and cramped pools. The basic concept is to build one state-of-the-art pool with bleacher seating — a change that would immediately bring OPRF into modern times. There are versions of this plan but our preference is a new pool structure at the northwest corner of the campus, the spot now housing tennis courts. Those courts would be relocated to the top of the pool building. We find this a practical and elegant solution. The new pool is estimated at $15 to $20 million.

Now these plans are preliminary and will doubtless evolve and improve. The dollar figures attached are still estimates. But it reflects innovative thinking and long-term solutions, which we admire.

The ad hoc Finance Advisory Committee has, as one of its charges, the task of recommending how to pay for this next generation's iteration of OPRF. And that would be our answer: Let the next generation, which will be using these improved classrooms and swimming in this pool, do a lot of the paying for these long-term improvements. In other words, don't pay cash out of the super-sized cash stockpile to pay for capital improvements intended to be used for 50 years. That is what long-term debt is intended to pay.

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