The District 200 Board of Education’s plan to demolish the high school’s relatively new parking garage fails to account for future parking needs. At the Village Transportation Commission meeting on Oct. 26, the parking void that would be left by the elimination of the garage’s 300 parking spaces was the sole topic. 

Jill Velan, parking & mobility services director, discussed some possible replacement parking spaces, all of which were discounted by one resident or another during the public comment session. Despite a recent quote by board President Jeff Weissglass that a parking plan was well underway, there was no plan or draft to review … nothing. Moreover, at no time did Velan or the board members address the issue of future parking needs at the high school. 

This lack of strategic planning rests solely on the shoulders of the school board. It only tasked Velan and the village with identifying 300 on-street parking spaces to replace those that would be lost with the demolition of the much-used garage, the site of the proposed $54 million, Olympic-size pool project. 

In a report released last year by Ehlers & Associates, the Lisle-based firm hired by D200, enrollment at OPRF High School could spike to nearly 4,000 within the next few years. The increase of approximately 800 students would also mean a significant increase in faculty and staff. D200 administrators and the board have noted the projected enrollment number as a reason to support the building of an Olympic-size pool. Yet neither administrators nor the board have discussed where these additional students, faculty and staff would park. The existing garage was reportedly built to accommodate two additional parking levels, if needed. 

With this plan, future parking needs won’t be met there. But the $54 million question remains, where will the high school build its next garage, the one that will surely be needed with the projected increase in enrollment? Where will everyone park who attends the regional swim meets in the new Olympic-size pool? 

Even with the current garage in place, parking is already an issue at OPRF. The loss of the 300 parking spaces would negatively impact the school, the neighborhood and the village at large. During the school day, only faculty, staff and visitors are allowed to park in the garage. Without the garage, parking would become a daily issue for them. The increased demand for on-street parking would take spots away from students. They are already forced to find on-street parking, and many students are already forced to park on streets north of Chicago Avenue. Throughout the school day, crossing Chicago Avenue by car, bike or on foot is a death-defying act. 

On nights and weekends, the loss of the garage would increase parking problems for football games, tournaments, theater productions, concerts, graduations, the Farmers Market and more. With OPRF’s land-locked site, there is no space to put a new pool without negatively impacting other sports teams or needed parking. 

The two existing pools could be renovated for just $2 million more than the $17 million that would be needed to repurpose the pool spaces. While not a state high school graduation requirement, swimming could continue to be offered as part of the curriculum as a gym class elective. Likewise, the two renovated pools could continue to be used for training and practices. OPRF could host home aquatic meets off-site, and the Fenwick pool, which lies just blocks south of OPRF, would be an attractive rental possibility for home meets. Several of OPRF’s sports teams already train and host home meets and matches offsite due to space constraints on campus. 

The school board has set the date for the legally required public hearing and petition period. If enough voters sign the petition opposing the non-referendum bonds, it will force a taxpayer vote. Taxpayers, not the seven members of the school board, should decide the fate of this massive public works project with its major parking ramifications. 

Monica Rogers Sheehan is an Oak Park resident.

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