OPRF’s West Pool has been closed, possibly permanently. | FILE 2019

In last week’s Wednesday Journal cover story [OPRF shuts down one of its aging pools, News, March 9], OPRF spins the narrative on the recent closure of the school’s west pool, omitting key information and lacking transparency. OPRF Director of Communications Karin Sullivan fails to mention the August 2021 Larson Report, a school-commissioned engineering report of the pools’ structural integrity that is central to the story.

The Larson Report stated clearly that the west pool required an “immediate” repair which would necessitate its closing. OPRF ignored Larson’s warning and had no plans to address the structural issue until this summer, according to an email from Superintendent Greg Johnson in early January. The pool closure only occurred after the Larson Report was unearthed by a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) response, forcing the administration to act. The report noted that OPRF had made no engineer-cited repairs to the pools for at least seven years, repairs needed to safely use the pools awaiting replacement. The structural issue with the west pool was cited in the January 2016 Larson Report and should have been addressed years ago. OPRF has a long history with Larson Engineering, commissioning it for all pool assessment reports since 2013. Oddly, OPRF commissioned a new engineering firm, McCluskey, in January to conduct another pool assessment which restated Larson’s findings. 

The same spin regarding the pool closure appears in the school’s website announcement. This time OPRF mentions the Larson Report, but only in a footnote and falsely states that the report did not indicate that either pool needed to be closed. Johnson and the Larson engineer emailed in January, stating both pools would need to be closed to make the “immediate” repairs. The OPRF announcement also spins the number of students involved in aquatic teams annually, double counting them, and spins the size of the proposed Imagine Pool, seeking to minimize its 17-lanes and 600-seat natatorium, as well as its cost, underestimated at $14 million.

Another spin story is the false narrative that the pools leak 3,000 gallons of water a day. Since 2016, OPRF has promoted that without documentation to support it. None exists. This fabrication was inconsistent with the Larson Report issued just months earlier and is disproved again in the McCluskey Report. It states that the basement floor underneath the east pool was “relatively dry” and notes “puddling” under the west pool.

The most recent example of spin lies in OPRF’s email/website announcement last Friday touting the equity of the Imagine Plan. With construction of the first phase nearly complete, OPRF says future phases address equity, such as a new indoor track for the school’s largest and most diverse team, track and field. 

What OPRF does not say is that the track will likely never be built as it appears in the fifth and final phase of the $219 million plan/wish list. Given that reality, the closed west pool should be repurposed to expand the cramped field house, with OPRF building a standard-size high school competition pool (20-yards x 25-yards) in the east pool/south gym as recommended in the comprehensive Stantec Report.

Monica Sheehan is an Oak Park resident.

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