After the District 200 Board of Education voted to withdraw $17.5 million in working cash bonds that would have partially funded the construction of a $37.5 million pool facility on the site of the high school’s parking garage, the pool issue — seemingly settled a few months ago — has been thrown open to questions, debate and speculation. 

Currently, the board is in the process of considering alternative plans.

The board’s preferred plan may have been put on hold, but that doesn’t mean the high school’s two existing 90-year-old swimming pools will stop their slow but steady descent into obsolescence. 

“These pools are way past their life expectancy,” said OPRF boys’ varsity swimming coach Clyde Lundgren during a recent practice in the high school’s west natatorium.

“I requested years ago that they have the starting blocks replaced; unfortunately, they said in order for us to get newer ones, they’d have to drill into the existing deck. They didn’t want to explore the notion of us taking a jackhammer and putting bolts into the deck.”

Lundgren pointed out more problems with an ease that suggested he’s had this conversation many times before.

The filtration systems often need to be replaced. One of the air handlers in the west pool has been operating at partial capacity for a number of weeks now. At one point, Lundgren said, there was no air circulating in the facility, which elicits an unending chorus of complaints from student-athletes about poor air quality. The ceiling tiles are cracking, which resulted in the installation of netting underneath them to keep them from falling on swimmers’ heads. And there are tiles at the bottom of the east pool that need to be repaired.

“They’re worried that if they try repairing those tiles, it’ll be the beginning of the end because if they take the water out to do repairs, the walls might essentially come in on themselves,” Lundgren said.

“Yeah, the east pool definitely can’t be drained,” said Jake Grant, 17, a senior on the varsity swimming team. “The water pressure is the only thing holding the walls of the pool together. It’s a problem. It wouldn’t be such a bad deal if the pools weren’t so bad and unable to be fixed.”

At a Jan. 14 board meeting, Fred Preuss, OPRF’s director of buildings and grounds, cited an engineering report on the status of both the east and west pools.

Preuss said engineers expressed concern about “the foundation walls of the pools because they do have some cracks in them.” Many of the engineers’ observations were similar to the swimmers’. 

There are options available for making repairs, Preuss said, which include the possibility of wrapping carbon fiber around the pools, reinforcing the walls of the pools with structural steel and repairing wall cracks with epoxy injections. Those options, however, are only stopgap measures, he said. 

There are other, less structural, but perhaps even more pressing problems, with the pools, swimmers noted. 

Grant said he’s seen rodents swimming in the east pool — echoing a longstanding complaint. But that isn’t the worst part, Grant and all the other swimmers interviewed told Wednesday Journal.

“The thing we most complain about is the air quality,” said Lawrence Cozzi, 17, a senior on the varsity water polo team and junior varsity swimming team. 

Cozzi said the air quality is better in the east pool, which has a metal fan positioned near the entrance and hums constantly to increase air circulation.

“The west pool is far worse. I practice in the west pool for water polo, where everybody has their head above the water most times,” Cozzi said, adding that having their heads above water only exacerbates the toll the air takes on their lungs. When it’s warm, the team often has to go outside “just to be able to breathe.” 

“A lot of swimmers, especially the girls, have asthma problems,” Grant said.

Lundgren noted that he worries the toll the air quality is taking on his swimmers, who are in, or around, the water “two hours a day every day for 14 weeks.” 

Cozzi’s complaints went beyond the pools themselves.

“The locker rooms are incredibly cramped and actually disgusting most times,” he said. “Less than half the showers work. We were down to four showers at one point during the season. They’re just grimy.” 

J.P. Ungarutti, a junior who swims on the varsity team, said the west pool’s poor drainage systems render the decks dangerously slippery.

“A lot of people slip on the decks because of the water drainage issue. So we all take extra precaution when we’re walking around,” he said, adding that a major complaint among his teammates about the east pool is its small deck space. 

Grant said the compounding problems with the pools present a compelling justification for spending what it takes to replacing the pools — even if it takes building a more expensive facility that would include parking spaces.

“I’m a pretty conservative guy and I don’t like to willy-nilly spend money, but this is infrastructure,” Grant said. “It’s definitely in need of being replaced. These pools are twice past their useful life span. If it means taking down the garage, which is also crumbling, then I guess we have to find a way to make it work. I totally feel for the parking plan people. We just built the garage, but if you’re dealt two problems and one is you have to spend more money in order for it to pay off, then it’s just what you have to do.”

Lundgren’s nightmare scenario is Lyons Township, which broke ground on a new pool a few years ago, but only after 20 years of talking about it, he said.

“That’s my concern. If we’re not ready to build a new one, there’s a ticking clock on these.”


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