After months of steady work, serious inquiry and a lot of poking around in a big building, the ambitious efforts of the Imagine OPRF volunteers have resulted in two concepts for a major renovation of Oak Park and River Forest High School.

The plans focus on wholesale remaking of interior athletic facilities, including the swimming pools, expansion and repositioning of arts programs, creation of new common areas for students to gather, and updating of classroom facilities to foster collaboration and greater educational equity.

The Imagine committee, based on input from the school board and community, will now work to consolidate the two plans and to begin cost estimates on what is being proposed to the board by late summer. 

The challenge here is to not prejudge what has been a thoughtful and expansive review of the facilities needs of this institution for decades to come. This is big-picture planning for a changing educational system and an old structure.

As always, the infernal pool seems to be the focal point of already heated social media conversation in town. That’s unfortunate as the scope of this project is so much more than replacing worn-out pools. Beyond that, in towns swamped by high taxes, OPRF will need to figure out what it can spend, and with its outrageous cash reserve how it will pay for these projects. There are also questions to be considered regarding the enrollment burst, long predicted but not yet materializing. Preparing for a notably higher enrollment was one of the spurs to this entire planning process.

OPRF is going to have to do many things at once. Reduce overspending that has been mounting in terms of staffing. Bringing contentious faculty contract talks to a conclusion that is not budget-busting. Make real the commitment to equity. Approve a facilities plan that is ambitious but not over-grand. And, in these processes, create enough trust in the community to allow it to happen.

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