With plans to replace the nearly 90-year-old swimming pools at Oak Park and River Forest High School postponed by a failed referendum, officials have started thinking about contingency plans just in case at least one of the existing pools becomes inoperable. 

High school officials have said the two pools, which have anticipated lifespans of 40 to 50 years old, don’t currently meet design safety standards “and the mechanicals are so old that replacement parts do not always exist,” according to an FAQ posted to the high school’s website. 

The pools, officials estimated, leak about 3,000 gallons of water a day and contractors can’t guarantee that future repairs to their cracked foundations will be enough to prevent further decay.

A $44.5 million plan to replace the two pools, and the existing parking garage, with a new pool 40-meter swimming pool and a smaller garage on the site where the current one sits failed by just 28 votes during the Nov. 8, 2016 election. The plan would have been funded by up to $25 million worth of bonds.

Officials have noted that it likely won’t be until 2018 before another proposal is put before voters. In the meantime, they’re mulling backup plans in case either or both of the existing pools fail. 

One of those options, however, will not be funding the entire $44.5 million plan, which was authorized unanimously by the school board last year, with money from the district’s roughly $96 million fund balance.

Last month, Tod Altenburg, the district’s chief business official, said that doing so would mean “lowering the amount of money available to us in operating funds and if that’s the case, then we’ll have to go out for a referendum in 2019.”

“That would not be in alignment with the finance advisory committee’s recommendations,” Altenberg said. “That committee made a really in-depth recommendation about dedicating $20 million of fund balance and about [sticking to] a timeline for gradually and responsibly spending down the fund balance within a particular time frame.”

During a Dec. 13 special meeting, Phil Prale, D200’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the administration is considering seeking out more community partnerships and changing their course scheduling in anticipation of the pool failure.

“In the eventuality that one of the pools is unavailable, we’re down an activity space, so we’d have to figure out how to take our students into classroom spaces,” Prale said.

If a pool space becomes unavailable, Prale said, “You’re looking at staggering students who would otherwise be taking swimming” into some other activity space. He added that PE teachers would likely have to develop new [“seat-based”] curriculum that isn’t centered on physical activity.

Last month, the school board approved a 5-year intergovernmental agreement with the Park District of Oak Park that allows the two entities to share each other’s facilities — an arrangement that may prove particularly critical in the months to come. 

From an athletic standpoint, Prale explained, OPRF has partnerships with high schools like [Riverside-Brookfield], which allows the Huskies diving team to practice in its pool facilities.

Those options, however, are limited, he stressed. For instance, that school isn’t available to OPRF water polo practices since RB’s water polo team would need to utilize the facility at the same time. 

In addition to utilizing other high schools, district officials are exploring future partnerships with entities such as nearby colleges and other local governments. Prale added that costs, such as those related to transportation, staff and security, would have to be considered with those partnerships.

During last month’s meeting, district officials also floated the possibility of implementing a swimming exemption, but so far that isn’t being seriously considered. 

“We’ve heard it, it’s a thought, but we haven’t really thought about how to implement it,” said Prale. “We won’t say it’s off the table, but we don’t have additional commentary on that. The devil is always in the details with implementing a policy like that.”

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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