Oak Park and River Forest High School will spend north of $900,000 to repair its failed West Pool, the school board unanimously decided at its March 24 meeting. The repairs, focused on the pool’s west deck and wall, will extend the life of the aged pool by 4-5 years, according to engineers hired by the district.

That timeline will theoretically allow the school time to complete planning, financing and construction of Project 2 within the district’s massive Imagine OPRF capital improvement plan. The second phase will focus on indoor athletic facilities on the south end of the Scoville Avenue campus.

The school board voted last Thursday to go out to bid for the repairs to the pool. The repairs are expected to cost around $933,188.

The school closed the pool last month after McCluskey Engineering, the consulting company the board contracted to look at ways to address the 95-year-old pools’ ongoing deterioration, warned that the west pool deck deteriorated to the point where it could cause the west wall to collapse. The board and consultants agreed that the repairs are there strictly to keep the pool going for a few more years, before the more comprehensive renovation of the school’s athletic facilities can take place. Leaving the pool closed until a full redo is complete isn’t an option, they agreed, given the demand of the school’s athletic programs and swim classes.

Ron Anderson, OPRF’s executive director of operations, said the district will go out to bid in April, with the bid results going before the board for final approval in May. Construction is expected to be completed in mid-August, in time for the start of the 2022-2023 school year. 

The major issue with any pool repairs is that the pool systems are old enough to be grandfathered in. Unless the school finds a way to replace the pool equipment with the exact same equipment that is already there – which, according to FGM Architects report, would be impossible given that much of the equipment is over 40 years old – the pool would fall under current safety standards, which would require the school to undertake substantial renovations to bring everything up to code. OPRF was already planning to replace both pools as part of the second phase of the Imagine capital program, but it would be years before that construction will begin – and at least one pool will need to be up while another pool is being replaced.

The first priority on the immediate project will be to replace the pool deck on the west side of the west pool – an issue that led to the pool’s closure in the first place.

“The west pool wall relies upon the west pool deck for some of its structural integrity,” the report stated. “A structural failure at the west pool deck could cause structural failure of the west pool wall as well.”

The repairs will also include last urgent, but still pressing repairs to the other three west pool walls and one of the east pool walls, as well as replacing two floor decks in each pool that aren’t as in bad of a shape as the west pool’s west deck, but still need attention. The report indicated that all of those repairs would only require them to replace some piping, which would be easier to replace than other pieces of equipment and keep the pools grandfathered in.

Timothy Moritz, the senior project manager at McCluskey Engineering, told the board on March 24 that the pool wall was “obviously leaking” through concrete, and that, while “the walls are not in the immediate danger of collapse,” they should be fixed as soon as possible.  He also said that  the west pool decks are “in various stages of corrosion” and “have the same leakage problems.”

John Dzarnowski, CEO of FGM Architects, who has experience repairing pools, said that he expects repairs to hold for 4-5 years, but warned that the pool systems are already beyond their useful life of 25-30 years.

Nicole Ebsen, OPRF’s athletic director, said that having only one pool is already hurting the water polo teams’ and synchronized swimming club’s ability to practice and “it would only become more difficult” if the pool remains closed next school year.

While board member Fred Arkin said he had reservations about spending “almost a million” to repair a pool that would be replaced in a few years anyway, board member Kebreab Henry argued that, given the impact of leaving it closed, repairs would be a good decision for the time being.

Henry wondered about liability issues the pool might raise. Superintendent Gregory Johnson said the pool has been drained and closed off, and even the locks were changed.

“We’ve done our best to really seclude that space in the building,” he said.

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