A new round of community talks associated with replacing the two 90-year-old swimming pools at Oak Park and River Forest High School will start in early April and could culminate in a referendum question on the Nov. 4 general election ballot, according to high school officials.
The school board’s plan to construct a $37.5 million swimming facility where the high school’s roughly 15-year-old parking garage currently sits encountered strong resistance from residents last year.
That resistance culminated last December in a successful petition drive to force part of the pool’s funding — $17.5 million in non-referendum bonds — onto the March 15 primary election ballot. The board, however, withdrew the bonds before deciding to rethink the pool construction process.
Since withdrawing the bonds in January, the district has convened a working group comprising board members and administrators, including board President Jeff Weissglass, board member Fred Arkin, Supt. Steven Isoye, Chief Business Officer Todd Altenburg, and Communications Director Karin Sullivan.
It has been meeting regularly “to determine next steps regarding the pool project,” according to a Feb. 25 district statement. “The group has focused on developing more extensive and user-friendly communications detailing the options that have been considered to date, creating opportunities for community input and conversation through public engagement meetings, and exploring the feasibility of alternative projects.”
In the wake of the fallout resulting from the board’s decision to authorize an intent to issue the $17.5 million bond, which surprised many residents who thought the pool’s construction would be put to a vote, several board members expressed dissatisfaction with the district’s efforts to disseminate information relating to the pool construction process.
Since then, the district has created a user-friendly landing page on its website featuring a variety of pertinent background information on the pool construction process that has occurred since the district began seriously exploring replacing the pools in 2013.
Some documents now accessible by the public on the district’s website include the 2013 Stantec study recommending the two pools be replaced by a single pool; a 2014 traffic study exploring the ramifications of the proposed vacation of Scoville Avenue between Lake Street and South Boulevard; and a chronology of pool sites the district has considered since 2012, including reasons for why those sites were removed from consideration.
The more robust communications rollout is part of the district’s preparation for seeking community input about the pools, and proposals for their replacement, which could possibly culminate in a referendum on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, officials noted. The deadline for approving a resolution for that election date is Aug. 22.
In its Feb. 25 statement, the district noted that the working group has met with a community engagement consultant “to discuss a plan for gathering community input on pool options.”
“Given the high level of interest in and concern about the pool project, having an outside party coordinate the engagement process is essential,” the statement noted. The consultant would facilitate a plan to hold several community meetings in April and would also seek input about the pool from students.
According to Weissglass, the district is considering a middle ground between constructing a $37.5 million pool — a plan that would mean the loss of 300 parking spots — and pursuing a $19 million “sub-optimal” gut rehab of the two existing pools — a plan that would result in “pools that are 18 percent smaller and do not have enough lanes to host any swim meets,” Weissglass noted in a statement.
He also said the district is “revisiting the possibility of maintaining two pools, the larger of which would be an 8-lane, 25-yard competition size pool” and is “working with the Park District of Oak Park on their community center feasibility study, which will determine whether a shared, off-campus, community pool is possible,” among other considerations.