Editor’s note: Three weeks ago, we published a shortened version of this letter because of an apparent discrepancy with our reporting over a budget number. Her statement that Imagine Project 1 is 25% over budget is accurate. Following is the full version of that letter, followed by information we learned from the high school. This contentious issue (mostly about building a new pool) has been ongoing for six years now. Our goal is to facilitate responsible community discussions in these pages, but because we are mired in an era of misinformation, we are wary about numbers included in submissions. And because we are understaffed, we are not able to quickly fact-check every letter and every claim. As a result, letters and One Views citing “facts” and “statistics” are likely to be delayed while we do our best to verify as much as we can. We apologize for the delays but feel they are necessary.

Here is the letter:

On May 9, District 200 held a community Open House for Project 1 of the Imagine Plan, including a promotional tour of its proposed Project 2. Project 1 features a much-needed modernization of dozens of academic spaces at OPRF, such as the renovation of 65 classrooms, including special-education spaces, 15 new classrooms, and a Student Resource Center.

Project 1 is 25% over budget. To partially compensate, the board planned to defer the renovation of dozens of classrooms. Along with other community members, I successfully advocated to the board to complete them now.

Similarly, we pressed the board in 2016 to identify other facility needs of the school beyond a swimming pool. In response, D200’s then-architect of record, Legat, presented plans that included most if not all the elements in the Imagine Plan.

Community input matters.

Following the defeat of the 2016 pool referendum, the then-superintendent created the Imagine Group, comprising community members and appointed school employees, who drafted the Imagine plan. It is a wish list of facility improvements without any budgetary constraints or priorities set by the board. It includes an oversized pool, a predetermined outcome of the plan.

The Imagine Group estimated its plan at $219 million in 2018. Construction architects FGM say that Imagine’s estimate is low relative to actual construction costs, and future costs will be much higher due to inflation. Over the past year, the board stated repeatedly that it needs to review and prioritize elements in the remaining plan especially given Project 1’s cost overruns of its $32.6 million Imagine estimate. Rather than follow through on reworking the plan, the board rubber-stamped Project 2 on March 24 with its $65 million Imagine estimate and authorized on April 28 obtaining construction estimates.

The administration’s recent public relations launch of Project 2’s demolition and rebuild plan included a disingenuous renovation comparison plan intended to cast Project 2 and its Imagine pool as cost effective. The comparison plan was a sham as it failed to include the pragmatic Stantec-recommended pool (8 lanes x 25 yards) priced at less than $20 million by Legat in 2016. A genuine renovation of the southeast corner of the building would likely cost far less than FGM’s current $51 million estimate of the administration’s sham renovation comparison plan.

What about Imagine Projects 3, 4 & 5? The high school board has held no discussion of these projects, which include modernizing dozens of science labs, classrooms, performing arts spaces and the field house, one of the most used spaces in the school. Unless the board acts now and reworks the remaining Imagine Plan, Projects 2-5, prioritizing needs over wants, it may be decades before its essential elements are renovated.

Consider emailing the board (boe@oprfhs.org) and encouraging it to conduct the needed pragmatic revision of the Imagine plan.

Monica Sheehan
Oak Park

Editor’s post-script: According to high school officials, the pool in the Imagine plan (Project 2) is 25 x 40 yards, with a moveable 6-foot-wide bulkhead that allows different configurations of the pool. For swim and dive competitions, it would have eight swim lanes, with a diving well on the other side of the bulkhead. For Physical Education classes or athletic practices, it could have sixteen 25-yard lanes going across the pool.

The original estimate for Project 1 is roughly $32 million. Currently spending is at roughly $40 million, which is 25 percent over. The final cost on Project 1 as construction continues into the final work will be at $41 to $41.5, which is an estimate.

Why?

Costs have been higher than planned for two reasons: The initial estimate goes back some time. As the final drawings came together, it added about $4 million to the cost.

Also the school decided to add two costly projects that were not in the original plan. When they demolished the old south cafeteria to make way for the 3-story library, the tutoring and maker center, and the cafeteria, they chose to dig out a basement because the school lacks storage space. That was an additional $4 million.

They also decided to add a student gathering space within the remade Student Center that hangs over the area just outside the auditorium.

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