With the master facilities plan at OPRF High School now submitted, with an ambitious initial roster of education and classroom-focused capital improvements chosen, funded and ready to be bid, it is an interesting moment for the concept of a collaboration between the Park District of Oak Park and OPRF on a community center to resurface.

And resurface it did at a recent school board meeting as Vic Guarino, a park commissioner and current candidate for the District 200 school board, raised the broad topic. 

This concept, driven by the park district in Oak Park, was shelved a year back when the River Forest Park District dropped out of discussions and OPRF delayed any further discussion as its own complicated facilities plan was already underway.

So now we have two potential taxpayer funded entities doing an early dance with the vague but much anticipated prospect of private donations playing a notable part in funding this community center.

With the wise decision by the OPRF administration and school board to indefinitely postpone necessary overhauls or rebuilding of the fieldhouse portion of the OPRF campus, here’s our early thought: 

The only logical place for a community center is on the site of the fieldhouse. That building — its pools, its locker rooms, its public spaces — is obsolete. It needs a wrecking ball. Investing tens of millions into it, and solely to serve high school students, doesn’t make common sense. It also doesn’t make sense for the high school to spend tax dollars on an off-site community center while its fieldhouse is a wreck.

The current fieldhouse, wedged at the south end of the school building and just north of the parking garage, is taxpayer-owned so no other Oak Park property would need to come off the tax rolls for a different, less convenient site. And it is virtually contiguous to the park district’s gem at Ridgeland Common.

Finally, if adequate public access can be built into such a facility — the indoor pool, track, gym — it would have the added benefit of connecting the school to the community, inviting locals without high school-age children to share in an institution we have all built and take pride in.

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