Repairs began on Oak Park and River Forest High School’s west (boys’) pool, a controversy erupted over the historical significance of tiles laid on the pool’s deck, and the whole matter was resolved, all within about a week.
It seemed to be a matter of fate to Bobbie Raymond, Oak Park artist, activist and OPRF alumna. She happened to be at the high school for a meeting, happened to talk with Jack Lanenga, the OPRF assistant superintendent for operations, who put the pieces together for her that the decorative tiles she’d studied for watercolor drawings would be destroyed.
“I have just been in love with those tiles forever,” Raymond said. “I’m thankful that we saved the boys’ pool. It’s not a total tragedy.”
The old boys’ pool deck was made of grey tile with an occasional 2-inch-by-2-inch decorative tile. The decorative tiles came in five varieties, picturing a carp, a crab, a lotus, a frog and a crawfish. Raymond studied, sketched and then painted the tiles’ designs in watercolors.
The new deck will be made of manmade materials.
Lanega was all for saving the tile, but hadn’t guessed the decorative tiles would have been found significant. He was more interested in saving the grey tiles for repairs in the east (girls’) pool.
Raymond sent someone to help remove the decorative tiles from the concrete below, a surprisingly arduous process that results in destroying 10 percent to 15 percent of the tiles in the process.
Cracks formed in the grey deck tiles produced razor-sharp edges, cutting the feet of swimmers and requiring the renovations, Lanenga said. The school suspected it would have to replace the black-and-white tiles inside the pool, too, but once the pool was drained that was not the case.
“These pools are in terrific condition,” Lanenga said. The pools will be cleaned and resealed.
Decorative tiles on the gutter will be lost. The gutter forms a lip to the pool, which should direct water splashed out of the pool back into the gutter to be filtered before returning to the pool. However, the original design just lets water drip directly back into the pool. The new lip and gutter will be made of stainless steel, matching a renovation of the gutter in the girls’ pool.
Other renovations include installing new heating, cooling and humidity control devices atop each pool, replacing acoustic ceiling tiles, and making the north balcony of the boys’ pool ADA-compliant so people in wheelchairs have access to and places to watch swimming and water polo competitions.
Raymond, while pleased with being able to save the decorative tiles on the boys’ pool deck, wants insurance for the future of the girls’ pool, which still has the decorative deck tiles.
“I would like to go to my grave knowing it’s going to be preserved,” she said.
Raymond said the board ought to adopt a measure to ensure the preservation of the girls’ pool, something board President John Rigas said was unlikely.
He said last Friday the school was “very cognizant” of preserving historical elements of the building, citing the reuse of roofing tiles.
“I don’t think anyone is trying to screw up the building,” Rigas said. “I don’t know how much historical significance those tiles have outside the context of the pool.”
The school is spending $50,000 to restore the 15 “nymphs” decorating the girls’ pool. Based on the bas-relief work of Jean Goujou, a French sculptor, the statues ring the pool above eye level, and are in need of resurfacing.
At the Dist. 200 Board of Education meeting last Thursday, Alumni Association Co-founder Bill Sullivan said preserving the building concerned alumni.
“The sights, sounds and smells of this building are important to the alumni of this institution,” Sullivan told the board. “This building and what it stands for is important to all members of the community, but particularly to alumni.”
Rigas said the school, in its efforts to restrain costs on building projects and comply with state school code, could not be expected to allow historic preservationists control over what renovations might be undertaken or how they might be done.