Unofficial election results show that the Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 facilities referendum has failed by a narrow margin, leaving the fate of the school’s 88-year-old swimming pools in doubt. 

The referendum, which the D200 school board approved unanimously in August, asked voters to pay for a $44.5 million, five-year facilities plan with no more than $25 million in referendum bonds. The remaining $20 million will come out of the district’s fund balance.

The plan would entail demolishing the village-owned, 300-space garage and constructing an estimated $21.4 million, 25-yard by 40-meter swimming pool, in addition to a roughly 240-space new parking garage, on the site of the old one. The high school would also expand performing arts and learning spaces, and renovate classroom space, on campus.

According to the Cook County Clerk’s office, with all 45 precincts reporting, 118 more votes had been cast against the ballot measure than for it. Out of 34,178 ballots cast, 17,266 were ‘yes’ while 17,384 were ‘no.’ Records showed that 80 percent of registered voters weighed in on the measure, which garnered a majority vote in just 15 of the 37 precincts in Oak Park Township. 

Although the high school district released what amounted to a concession statement the day after the Nov. 8 election, members of the Vote Yes! group, which campaigned in support of the measure, noted that they were waiting until all votes are counted before commenting on the matter. 

As of Tuesday morning, an official tally of the vote by the Cook County Clerk’s Office hadn’t been released, yet. 

Hours after the election, Wayne Franklin, a referendum supporter and campaign volunteer, said that there could be outstanding absentee ballots from recent OPRF graduates that have yet to be accounted for, but noted that he didn’t know whether or not they’d be enough to make up the gap.

Meanwhile, the district’s statement noted that, “With the failure of the referendum, the Board will begin new deliberations to determine next steps and will keep the community apprised of developments in the project.”

In a statement released the night of the election, Monica Sheehan, who spearheaded the campaign against the referendum, expressed gratitude for what she described as a “community-wide, grassroots effort” to defeat the district’s referendum.

“We appreciate the efforts of everyone who worked to make sure that the community understood the issue,” she said. “We believe that this vote is the best outcome, and we look forward to working with the Board to craft a pragmatic solution to the pool problem.”

Kevin Peppard, a member of Sheehan’s anti-referendum group OPRF Pragmatic Pool Solutions, said that he and other members of his group will wait until the board’s next regular meeting on Nov. 17 to make any other official comments. 

“We haven’t heard from them yet and the other side hasn’t conceded,” Peppard said. “We’re going to give them the courtesy of hearing what they have to say.”

The Pragmatic Pool group has expressed support for an earlier option that was considered by the board before it voted on the $44.5 million plan in August. That option called for replacing the east pool with a 25-yard competition pool and the west pool with a smaller pool in the existing space, while keeping the current garage, at a cost of $22.3 million. 

When wrapped into the more comprehensive five-year facilities plan, the cost is an estimated $39.9 million. The Pragmatic Pool group, however, has argued against including their chosen pool plan into a larger facilities plan. 

In September, the D200 school board adopted a formal statement noting that it does not endorse any alternative plan, “and in particular the board has no plans to pursue the options for rebuilding the existing two pools in their current location that it previously considered.”

D200 Board President Jeff Weissglass, who couldn’t be reached for comment, talked in October about what would happen if the referendum failed. He reinforced the position the board took in its formal statement before noting that, “speaking personally, as a board member, if we had to go back and reconsider [the two-pool option], it wouldn’t even be on the table for me.” 

District officials have argued that the two-pool option doesn’t sufficiently accommodate the high school’s growing performing arts enrollment and doesn’t provide enough space for up to three PE classes, among other limitations. 

Pragmatic Pool members have argued, however, that school officials are overstating the need for aquatics PE courses in order to justify building a more expensive pool. They’ve also claimed that district officials haven’t looked hard enough to find alternative means for expanding the high school’s performing arts programming in the campus’s existing footprint. 

During the October interview, Weissglass noted that the soonest another facilities referendum would be considered is March 2018, since District 97 is looking to conduct an operating referendum in April 2017. 

“It wouldn’t make sense for the community to be trying to deal with both [referenda] at the same time,” Weissglass said. “I also think we’d probably need a little more time than that to understand what happened, to review our options and to figure out how to engage the community in how to move forward.” 


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