Imagine OPRF, the working group formed last spring to create a long-term facilities plan for Oak Park and River Forest High School, has narrowed its focus to two preliminary design concepts.
Around a dozen members of the 40-member Imagine group were on hand during a special meeting on June 27 to present the concepts to, and field questions from, District 200 school board members — many of whom honed in on the idea, common to both concepts, of rebuilding OPRF’s south end to accommodate new physical education and athletics facilities.
The two concepts, called Burnt Orange and Navy Blue, are very similar. Both concepts share a series of major components that are based on “specific needs and opportunities” that were identified during the process of gathering research and public input, Imagine members explained in a board document.
Those needs and opportunities fell into six general categories, which included:
- The need to reorganize, reconfigure and renovate student learning spaces to meet a changing educational landscape
- The need to make the space at OPRF more efficient
- The opportunity to foster more community connections and to make the campus more welcoming with facilities improvements
- The opportunity to improve equity through facilities improvements; among others.
- The need to foster equity “along several dimensions” through facilities changes.
- The need to upgrade the condition of the facilities in certain parts of campus that negatively impact students and staff.
“Both concepts show a rebuilt south end that does not touch the current parking garage,” said Lynn Kamenitsa, an Imagine co-chair.
In the Navy Blue concept, the swimming pool and multipurpose, multi-court gymnasium would be located on a lower level, with a first-floor entrance that provides direct access to spectator seating. In the Burnt Orange concept, the pool and gymnasium are both located on the first-floor.
The concepts would both feature 25-yard by 40-yard pools with a 6-foot bulkhead, which can be utilized to divide the pool space into different areas for multiple uses. The new 2-story fieldhouse common to both concepts would cover the entire width of the building and feature five courts, a climbing wall and a 200-meter track, among other features.
Kamenitsa said that the rebuilt south end ensures more efficient use of the space, reduces overcrowding and creates flexibility for the school’s future needs while accommodating its current needs.
“All of that is very difficult to accomplish with the existing structures, because some of them were built [nearly a century ago],” she said at the June 27 meeting. “What you have is a bunch of small, structurally interdependent units, so it’s really hard to open them up to create the large, flexible spaces that today’s construction techniques will allow.”
The idea of completely rebuilding the south campus, however, gave some board members pause.
“It’s daunting to think about removing the field house and rebuilding,” said board member Fred Arkin. “That’s a big concept to overcome.”
Board member Sara Spivy said that she wanted more detailed information from Imagine members about why they opted for demolition. Members Craig Iseli and Matt Baron both emphasized the need for calculating costs and financial tradeoffs while thinking about ideas like demolition and rebuilding roughly a third of the campus.
“We don’t have unlimited resources to do everything we want,” Iseli said.
Baron wanted to know how the rebuilding of the south campus would be phased in over time in order to minimize disruption.
Terry Fielden, with International Contractors Inc., and an advisor to the Imagine group, said that “there’s going to be quite a bit of planning involved before you start this out … It’s a very, very complex thing.”
Imagine members said that the two concepts would both create common spaces throughout campus for students to study, socialize and collaborate — an idea that generated the most enthusiasm among board members.
The primary commons space would be accessible through the main entrance on Scoville Avenue, between the auditorium and the Little Theater.
“We think some of the most important investments in the new facilities we’re proposing will be those that promote a sense of welcoming and ownership because those investments, while benefitting all students, will disproportionately benefit groups of marginalized and underserved students,” said Imagine co-chair Mike Poirier, during the special meeting. “This is one of the principal objectives behind the consolidation of common functions at the center core of the building.”
Board member Jennifer Cassell said that she was “most excited about the student common space,” adding that “over the last few years you’ve heard a real desire from students for that.”
Both concepts call for relocating the library and tutoring center toward the center of the building, off of the commons, so that students can access the space more easily than before, during and after school.
The spaces would be redesigned “to accommodate group and collaborative work as well as silent individual work,” the memo states, and moving them near the commons would make the spaces more accessible for students during lunch periods and “enable them to remain open longer without the additional security personnel that would be required in their current locations.”
In the Navy Blue concept, the library and tutoring center would be located on the second floor, just above the first-floor kitchen/cafeteria space. In the Burnt Orange concept, they’d be located just above the Little Theater.
Both concepts would entail the cafeteria and food service facilities getting significant renovation and equipment upgrades.
“In listening sessions and survey responses, students indicated that the cafeterias were a particular source of stress, anxiety, and discomfort, and that they wanted more options like the one provided by the balcony in the current Student Center,” the memo states.
Both concepts would also locate spaces that are similar in function near each other. Spaces for the daycare and academic child development lab, building and district administrative offices and for Special Education will be consolidated and located near the first-floor entryway.
Both concepts feature plans to reorganize, renovate and re-allocate classroom space throughout the north end of OPRF, with similar subjects, such as math and science, clustered in the same area. Both concepts also feature classroom spaces with “vastly improved” daylighting.
One of the biggest differences between the Navy Blue and Burnt Orange concepts is the location of the performing arts spaces. In the Navy Blue concept, performing arts spaces are located right off of the commons, adjacent to the auditorium. In the Burnt Orange concept, they’re located at the west end of the south campus, which is currently dedicated to physical education and athletics spaces.
Both concepts, however, call for the performing arts facilities to be updated and expanded.
Poirier said that there will be another meeting in mid-August, where Imagine members will present a single concept to board members and start some preliminary discussions about how much the long-term facilities plan will cost. He said that the public will have another opportunity to provide feedback at another community engagement meeting planned for some time in the fall.
“When we come back in August with a draft of a full facilities master plan it will be a combination of the best elements from Orange and Blue,” said Kamenitsa.