After reading Devin Rose’s Feb. 8 coverage of the latest meeting of the River Forest Park District, Wednesday Journal reader Donna Peel posted a query asking why the public can’t use the pools at Oak Park and River Forest High School to swim year-round. See the article here.

Good question!

I asked Dietra Millard, president of the District 200 Board of Education why the high school allows TOPS, a private swimming group affiliated with the YMCA in Oak Park, to pay to use the high school pools on a regular basis all year but declines to extend the same privileges to the general public from both villages, whose property taxes, not TOPS, pay for the maintenance and staffing.

Millard said she doesn’t know why that is and that she’s not responsible for the special privileges TOPS receives at the expense and exclusion of the rest of us. But for now, the public can’t swim at the high school.

Since Concordia University closed its indoor, public-access pool in August, no other pools remain here. So many working people, seniors and families in OP and RF can no longer afford to swim year round.

Although the approved renovation plan for Ridgeland Commons does not include an enclosure for the 50-meter pool, the Park District of Oak Park could easily enclose the pools at Ridgeland Common and Rehm, as well as the ice rink, for just over $2 million each.

Enclosing both pools for year-round use would ensure enough public aquatic facilities so everyone who wants to swim every day could do so inexpensively.

A park district in Kearns, Utah enclosed its 50-meter pool for about $2.5 million last spring and began using it last summer. That is 3-4 times less than the $8 million the park district said it would cost to enclose the Ridgeland Common pool. See a free, time-lapse video of the construction and subsequent use at www.vimeo.com/35319332.

Does it make sense to pay $23.5 million to renovate Ridgeland Common without including a year-round pool enclosure, when for about 1/3 of that cost, the park district could enclose both pools as well as the ice rink?

We believe the answer is “no.”

In our view, the $23.5 million is a waste because it won’t give the public and property taxpayers one more minute of public-access pool time than we have now.

However, if the park district modified the renovation plan to enclose both pools and the ice rink with affordable and practical structures like the one in Kearns, then the public would get all the swim time they want all year long — for a fraction of the $23.5 million for the unmodified plan.

The park district did not know about the much more affordable renovation alternative that Kearns has pioneered because it was just built last year.

But now that they do know it can satisfy all of our aquatics needs with none of the problems that it said would undermine such inexpensive structures, we believe it would be irresponsible for them to implement the renovation plan without first modifying it to incorporate these structures.

Our community can get the daily, year-round, public-access fitness services we need. Please ask the park district to modify its renovation plan to include low-cost enclosures for its pools and ice rink.

Barb Langer, Ph.D., and Virginia Thomas are members of Enclose Our Pools. Email graceflo@ameritech.net.

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