Ashlie Stapleton, the project manager with Pepper Construction, walks through one of the hallways with furniture from classrooms placed outside of the rooms on Thursday, July 29, 2021, inside Oak Park and River Forest High School in Oak Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

Portions of Phase One of Oak Park and River Forest High School’s major renovation project are expected to be completed before Aug. 16, the first day of school. That means staff and students will be walking into a school building featuring a new welcome center and student commons.

The first phase, a roughly $32.6 million project, is part of Imagine OPRF, a master facilities plan that aims to address the school’s lack of investment in the Scoville Avenue campus over several decades as well as rethink student gathering places and classrooms to reflect current needs. The district is working with FGM Architects and Pepper Construction Company on a long list of capital enhancements, ranging from revamping the welcome center and student commons areas to improving the special education spaces.

The welcome center – an area near the school’s main entrance designed for both security and to greet staff, students and visitors – will now include a new waiting area, front desk and four-panel video walls, said Karin Sullivan, director of communications and community relations.

Before the renovations, the waiting area in the welcome center was just a row of chairs lined up against a wall “that were kind of in the way,” Sullivan said. The center will also have some cubby units used to hold lunches, books or other items dropped off by parents and caregivers.

“The flow’s just going to be a lot smoother. It’s more open. It’s more welcoming,” Sullivan said.

The student commons, formerly known as the student center, is a large open space inside the welcome center. That area will soon serve students better, offering more seating and room to gather, Sullivan said. The commons will also have an ADA-compliant ramp to accommodate those with disabilities.

The Book of Learning – a 10-foot by 12-foot limestone sculpture – will act as a showpiece in the commons, tying the space together. The artifact, which was brought out of storage, weighs about five tons and will be encased in glass for protection.

“OPRF is very tradition-oriented,” Sullivan said about the preserved centerpiece. “People are very proud of the history of OPRF. So, it’s really exciting to have this literal piece of history on display now.”

During the planning process for Imagine OPRF, students had called for more informal gathering spaces, Sullivan said.

The staircase in the newly dubbed student commons will lead students to an expanded balcony, providing another place for them to hang out, eat lunch or study, Sullivan said. That space can also be converted into a classroom for teachers, she said.

By early August, OPRF will have eight all-gender bathrooms, and renovations to 16 of the total 76 classrooms will be finished. Classroom renovations include new doors, flooring and ventilation systems.

Remaking of the south cafeteria and student resource center are major ongoing projects and are anticipated to be finished by January 2022. The old cafeteria has been demolished, and the building of its three-story 45,000-square-foot replacement building – which includes the cafeteria and the resource center – began last summer. The addition will feature a new basement right underneath the cafeteria, Sullivan said.

She said OPRF did not have a basement or a designated storage space. School staff and employees often converted their conference rooms or classrooms into makeshift storage spaces for supplies, uniforms and other equipment.

This month the first phase of improvements for the special education spaces will be done. Staff and students will have a new sensory room and meeting room. Creating an ADA-compliant restroom and revamping other special education classrooms and administrative offices comprise the next list of projects for phase two.

For more information or updates on Imagine OPRF, visit the school website at www.oprfhs.org/about/facilities-master-plan.

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