After years of debate and study, the school board at Oak Park and River Forest High School Tuesday approved a complicated motion to build an Olympic-sized pool on the school’s baseball field but only if an off-campus site can be acquired by April 23 to house the displaced team.
The board also decided Tuesday not to place a tax hike referendum on the April ballot. That referendum would have been tied to a still uncertain plan on how to fund pool construction. John Phelan, school board president, said Wednesday that there was not adequate time to plan for a referendum vote or to educate citizens on its merits.
With a 5 to 2 vote, board members approved plans to build a new pool facility – attached to the main school building — on the baseball field to the west of the school. Part two of the plan, though, is to secure another site off the campus to house the baseball program, or alternatively the softball or tennis program as second and third priority by the April 23 board meeting.
Board members Dr. Ralph Lee and Sharon Patchak-Layman voted against the motion.
Phelan said building the pool facility on the baseball field would leave room for only two sports programs and that the third sports program would need to be moved to another location.
A site owned by the Village of Forest Park, the so-called Altenheim property off of Madison Street, was one potential property mentioned as an off-campus site during public comment Tuesday.
“Altenheim was a location referenced during public comment. I can’t say it’s anything more than one of several possibilities,” Phelan said Wednesday. “I will work with administration to form a team to look for options. We’ll explore what sites are available, what costs they involve, whether or not they are viable and bring them back to the board.”
As part of the motion OKd Tuesday, the board also approved two other options for building the new pool if efforts to find another site for one of the three high school’s sports programs are unsuccessful by April 23.
The second option includes knocking down the village-owned parking garage on campus and using that site for a pool. Under that scenario the school district would work to create additional on-street and other parking options.
A third option includes the same steps as the second, but would instead include an estimated 118 parking spaces as part of the new pool facility.
Option one would cost the district an estimated $34.3 million plus additional costs of buying off-campus property, rehabbing that property and transporting students to the off-site location.
Option two would cost an estimated $36.3 million and option three would cost an estimated $47.6 million, according to a cost comparisons document provided by the district.
OPRF currently has two swimming pools, an eight lane pool and a six lane pool, which are both deemed to be obsolete.
“One of the construction consultants said it’s very difficult to repair them because many parts of the pools are deteriorated,” Patchak-Layman said Wednesday. “They’re just on their last leg. I hope they can hang in until a new pool gets built.”
Building a new pool facility has been an ongoing issue at District 200 for several years now.
Lee, who voted against the motion, said he blames himself and Patchak-Layman for the district being in this situation.
“We have been on this board for seven years and others less than that. We blew it,” Lee said at the meeting. “Do we consider this to be our single highest priority? Putting off building this pool will cause considerable pain and damage.”
Patchak-Layman, who also voted against the motion, said she has difficulty with the district putting $48.8 million toward building the new swimming pool.
“I would be much happier if we came in at $30 million or less; $45 million [or more] is way out of line,” Patchak-Layman said at the meeting. She said building the pool on the baseball field would remove green space from the community.
Steve Gevinson, a school board member and longtime OPRF teacher, said an Olympic sized swimming pool would be a great asset to the community. But, he added destroying the parking garage to build the swimming pool would create more problems.
“If we’re going to build an enormous facility, people need to park somewhere [close by], not four or five blocks away,” Gevinson said at the meeting.
Phelan said he will work with administration to form a team to create a parking plan if the district decides to build on the garage site.
Updates on the parking plan and alternative sites for OPRF’s sports programs will be presented at the next board of education meeting Jan. 29.
Related to the pool vote was a discussion of whether to approve a tax hike referendum this April to help fund the project. The deadline to get such a question on the coming ballot is Jan. 20. Phelan said there will be no such measure this year.
“There were no fair and appropriate referendum questions we could put on the ballot,” Phelan said Wednesday. “There’s no time to educate the public. We would be sending a confused public to the polls in April.”