In November 2017, the River Forest Park District board and Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 school board both agreed to allow a memorandum of understanding (MOU) critical to keeping alive talks about a proposed shared community recreational center to expire.
Financial concerns and the fact that D200 was in the early stages of the Imagine OPRF long-term facilities planning process factored into the decision to hit the pause button on plans for the proposed center.
But now that Imagine OPRF has completed its work, talks between the Park District of Oak Park and the school district have rekindled.
Vic Guarino, the president of the Park District of Oak Park board, a member of Imagine OPRF and a candidate for the D200 school board, was at the school board’s Feb. 19 committee of the whole meeting to “circle back after Imagine to determine if there’s any desire to partner.”
Guarino said that the park district is looking to build a community recreation center somewhere in Oak Park and that the district hopes to collaborate with D200 about a comprehensive partnership that would go beyond a joint community recreational center. The River Forest Park District is not interested in the partnership, Guarino said.
“Were hoping to have not just a discussion about a community recreational center, but more broadly beyond any facilities and not limited to a rec center itself,” he said. “We’re interested in partnering on a recreation center, a separate pool, gym, track, pretty much any facility that you might be interested in — not limited to a recreational center.”
He told school board members that “if we’re going to partner, we’re hoping to find a scope,” such as “what facilities you’re interested in, if there’s some restriction on the proximity to the school, what funds might be available, because that limits the scope and size and what is your time table.”
Guarino said that the park district has “established a framework” for raising private donations, but that it “would be a mistake if the park district went out to look for private funds for a community rec center and the high school did something similar for their facilities, and we’re competing with each other. At some point we should coordinate.”
Guarino told board members that the park district has identified an undisclosed site within Oak Park for a potential recreational center, but that the park district would not be against collaborating with OPRF to construct a shared facility, particularly a pool, on the high school’s campus.
“Would you consider moving the pool here?” asked board member Sara Dixon Spivey.
“Yeah, just as long as the public has access to it,” Guarino said. “We have plans, but we’re willing to work with you and alter our plans, if needed, along those lines or look at other options if that makes sense for us.”
Guarino added that any facility or project completed as a result of a collaboration between the park district and OPRF would accommodate River Forest citizens “as if they’re Oak Park citizens,” since the latter also pay taxes to District 200.
Some board members were concerned about how moving forward with a collaboration with the park district might affect Imagine OPRF plans.
“Whenever we talk about the facilities situation, I feel like there’s a chicken-and-egg game of what comes first,” said board member Jennifer Cassell.
“Do we figure out the pool situation first and then collaborate with the park district? I appreciate being able to have intergovernmental conversations, but just want to make sure we’re following our processes with Imagine and respecting the work Imagine has done.”
Board members said that as long as the park district’s proposed partnership aligns with the needs outlined in the Imagine OPRF plan, then the district should consider it.
“If we can cooperate with other governmental entities, we ought to do it,” said board member Fred Arkin.
“We have a plan and we need to achieve those needs,” said board member Tom Cofsky. “If that can be done, then I’d be supportive. We have a plan and it needs to fit in line with that.”
OPRF Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams cautioned board members that the district’s fundraising efforts, even if done in partnership with the park district, “may go beyond what the park district is hoping to do.
“If we get to point where there is some joint collaboration, I just want the board to know that it is not our intent to stop at that point with the fundraising for facilities,” she said.