By Terry Dean
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.