On May 17, 2016, Oak Park and River Forest High School’s architect of record, Legat, presented the school board with three Long Term Facility Plans (LTFPs). The most expensive one, Option 3, was priced at $152 million, with $90 million earmarked to totally demolish and rebuild the south end of the building and historic Field House, largely for physical education and athletics.
Legat called Option 3 the most “invasive” plan. Phase I would likely take three years to demolish and rebuild a third of the school’s building. In the board discussion, the then-president commented that members looked “shell-shocked” over the disruption challenges inherent with Option 3, and a few members underscored that the building was structurally sound and well maintained, not in need of demolition. One member stressed that the need was only to reconfigure space, not demolish it.
At the June 14, 2016 meeting, the board unanimously rejected the $152 million plan without discussion. Five members of the 2016 school board sit on the current board.
The 2016 plan is relevant today as the Imagine OPRF Work Group is set to unveil its final conceptual LTFP this month. Both Option 3 and Imagine’s plan, a compilation of its two concepts presented in June, include the disruptive total demolition and rebuild of the south end of the building and Field House. Both plans include huge pools and a 200-meter running track. While some of the plans’ components differ, they are both extensive and touch nearly every corner of the building. As such, the Imagine plan’s price tag will likely be in the neighborhood of the rejected $152 million plan.
Imagine’s FAQ (frequently asked questions) page from May 2018, posted on the website, fails to acknowledge the existence of Option 3, falsely stating that no previous plan included a pool as part of a newly constructed PE/Athletics facility. The FAQ page contains other questionable statements and largely reads as a promotional piece for a big pool. It fails to fully articulate and provide documentation why a third of the school building must be demolished and rebuilt. Stating that space is inefficient does not equate to total demolition.
In response to why OPRF doesn’t allow students to test out of swimming, the FAQ says few students could pass its aquatics safety firm’s proficiency test, which includes swimming 500 yards without stopping. That’s 400 yards more than the Boy Scouts’ swim test. Scouts who pass the test are cleared for all aquatic activities anywhere in a lake. It’s time to revisit OPRF’s self-imposed, mandatory swimming requirement.
The FAQ page states that 16 regional schools have built stretch pools since 1996, yet doesn’t include how many demolished buildings to accommodate them, probably none. That’s the reality for OPRF. It can’t build an oversized pool without demolishing a building or taking away green space. There are, however, two pragmatic pool solutions: a standard-size high school competition pool within the building or a covered 50-meter pool partnership at Ridgeland Commons, each priced under $20 million.
Dori Bernstein, Marty Bernstein, Kitty Conklin, Jack Davidson, Bruce Kleinman, Maureen Kleinman, Mike Nevins, Lisa Pearah, Monica Sheehan, Doug Springer, and Leslie Sutphen are members of OPRF Pragmatic Solutions.