No field house pool at OPRF

Officials exploring off campus swim facility


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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Building a pool in Oak Park and River Forest High School's field house would negatively impact the school's track teams, which use the already cramped facility, say supporters of the track squad.

About a dozen people spoke during the public comment portion of the District 200 school board's Sept. 26 meeting, including supporters of the swim team. The high school's preliminary plans for a new pool were presented at the meeting.

The report included four pool options, including replacing the current boys and girls pools, which are located in the field house, with just one in that location. Other options include building a brand new pool facility just off campus.

But, according to the school's draft plans, a new indoor pool would not infringe on the field house track. Instead, it would replace the existing east pool and a weight room in that part of the field house. The west pool is also eliminated and replaced with a gym, according to the plan.

School officials say the field house option has been taken off of the table after talking with coaches and other stakeholders. It was presented to the board last Thursday as part of all of the options that had been considered.

Still, parents of track athletes spoke out against the field house option, arguing that a new pool built there would infringe on track students. That, they said, would be unfair to track athletes, whose facility is already subpar compared to other conference schools.

"Whatever decision is made with respect to the swimming pool is not being properly addressed if it makes the track team's facility more inadequate," said John Murphy, the father of a junior who runs track.

Building a pool in the field house, he added, would not be fair or sensible to either sports team. Murphy and other track supporters, however, noted that the current pools are inadequate and need replacing.  

Other speakers that evening represented the swim team. They also opposed building in the field house and instead pushed for the option of using some of the Lake Street parking garage for a new pool facility. That option, according to the school's proposals, calls for tearing down a portion of the garage to build a pool facility. A multi-level parking garage would be built on the remainder of that land.

Supporters also advocated for a pool with 11 lanes or more, versus the eight-lane option proposed by the school's architects. The current pools are five and six lanes respectively. The pools are also used for physical education classes and other sports, including water polo and synchronized swimming, as well as the TOPS (The Oak Park Swimmers) age-group swim club. A larger pool, supporters argue, could accommodate all of those groups.

"We need the space to run an aquatics program," said Julie Blankemeier, parent of a swimmer. "Our swimmers presently have 11 lanes of 25 yards, and these pools are jammed all the time. It's a tight fit for our feeder programs when the lanes are filled with kids trying to intensively practice."

The parents said the school could generate revenue from a larger pool that can accommodate community groups and residents. The parents presented their own proposal to the board which they said outlines that.

Three swim team captains, Helen Thomason, Emma Connell and Maura Dahl, stood together at the podium in support of a new pool for the school but didn't endorse any specific option.

Following public comments, representatives from Legat Architects, the schools firm, presented the various options for a pool facility, all ranging between $15 to 22 million, according to Legat.

School officials, however, stress that these are only concepts and preliminary figures.

Supt. Steven Isoye explained that the field house option had been ruled out by the school's facilities planning committee and won't be coming forward to the board for consideration. Isoye said further discussion is needed between the board, the architects and stakeholders before anything is built.

And according to Legat, 11 lanes are "feasible" in any of the options and would not incur additional costs. That was good news to boys and girls swim Coach Clyde Lundgren, who also spoke at the meeting.

"To me, I was encouraged, and really encouraged by the support of the people there and voicing their opinions," he said after the meeting.    

The board and administration also discussed possible scenarios to pay for the new pool, either selling bonds outright or going with a bond referendum in a future election, as well as using a portion of the district's $120 million fund balance. The high school can use some of its reserves for capital projects, officials noted.


Reader Comments

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Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 6th, 2013 5:29 PM

I vote no.

R French from OP  

Posted: October 6th, 2013 12:46 PM

I agree w/ Jerry. let's have community input and build a facility for the future with the available funds

Jerry Hudson from Phoenix  

Posted: September 30th, 2013 6:50 PM

With all due respect, how do we start on the subject of a much needed new pool at OPRF and wind up talking about indoor pools at Rehm Park and funding teacher pension plans? Fortunately, when the folks at OP decided to build what were then the best facilities in the nation, they looked to the future and rejected all of the customary selfish arguments. 80 years later, and it's time to update those facilities. And once again time to look to the future. Can any serious person deny that fact?


Posted: September 30th, 2013 11:38 AM

Pension system is just not sustainable. There are retired teachers not even 60 getting more in pension than I get in salary. Insane.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: September 30th, 2013 10:47 AM

Muntz - Agree 100%. But sadly, the model isn't going to change because the teachers' union won't allow it. Everything stays the same, only difference is how to and who will pay for it. Therefore, since this portion of the pension issue isn't going away, it might as well be funded. Just wait until Springfield votes to make the pension issue become the local districts responsibility to fund - think your taxes are high now? Estimates are Chicago's catch up will increase taxes 50%.


Posted: September 30th, 2013 10:26 AM

@Done-Throwing our money at the outdated and antiquated pension model does us no good either. The gap exists because pensioners take out vastly more money than they contribute. $100M more won't change that and that well will run dry soon enough. Then we're back to square one, namely, the taxpayers' wallets. Serious pension reform must come first.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: September 30th, 2013 9:10 AM

Missed the "M" in $100+.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: September 30th, 2013 9:09 AM

Regardless of the beauty of the upcoming state-of-the-art pool that OP and OPRF will come up with, how many smell referendum for OPRF and the $100+ they already are sitting on? Before we build a pool, use the damn money to fully fund the pension program at OPRF. They will not get a "yes" vote from me on a referendum until the pension gap is closed and I hope everyone else who gets the "do it for the children" crap sees through it.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: September 29th, 2013 1:12 PM

...and the comments drone on about how to spend money on a wish list of bigger and better. This helps this team and that athletic interest. Keep spending, keep dreaming and create a bigger hole that our taxes will have to fill.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: September 29th, 2013 12:59 AM

Many in the community have expressed support for an indoor public facility but there's been very little interest by the decision makers. The economics must just not be right to justify what would be a considerable expenditure. It would be interesting to learn what the Park District's own number crunching shows regarding feasabilty.

Where's the cooperation?  

Posted: September 28th, 2013 9:51 AM

Yes, Esther, yes they should have considered an indoor pool at Rehm. Instead we now gets 2 remodeled pool areas--neither of which completely serves the swimming community in the area. Surprised? Not me. Let's see some intergovernmental cooperation like we've been promised to find a solution.

Parent of former athletes from Oak Park  

Posted: September 28th, 2013 9:31 AM

Let us also not forget that the field house, in the winter, is the indoor home of sports teams that can't get outside, such as soccer, softball, some travel teams, etc. I would re-do existing pools, but let's not throwing the other precious space out of balance.

Esther from Allen  

Posted: September 27th, 2013 11:33 PM

They should have considered building an indoor pool at Rehm.

Jerry Hudson from Phoenix  

Posted: September 27th, 2013 6:36 PM

I'm happy that the field house option is "off the table," and hope it remains that way. OPs track facilities should be expanded and improved as part of this proposed renovation, not eliminated. Option D looks interesting to me. As part of constructing a dual use facility north of the football field, wouldn't it also be possible to construct permanent seating on the south wall of the new building? More seating, better seating, rest rooms, concessions, etc.

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