This Thursday, Oct. 27, the District 200 Board of Education will hold its first discussion of the detailed schematic design and cost estimate for Imagine OPRF Project 2. This second phase of the high school’s long-term capital projects plan will rightfully generate a great deal of community discussion in the coming weeks, so I want to provide some background and context about the work we’re proposing, and the steps ahead.

Project 2 was originally the product of the Imagine OPRF Work Group, the force behind our master facilities planning process, begun in 2017. The core Imagine team comprised 30 community members and 10 employees, who conducted a year and a half of intensive research with hundreds of stakeholders.

This community-based process produced a multi-phase plan that upholds the three guiding principles of the Imagine OPRF Work Group: needs driven, student centered, and equity focused.

This phase of their work is about replacing the physical education wing at the southeast corner of the building (the Lake and Scoville corner), which consists of learning spaces that were built in 1928 and 1957. Anyone with a 100-year-old home that’s never been updated can appreciate the three major problems that Project 2 is designed to solve: condition, capacity, and configuration.

The size and configuration of the gymnasiums, which were built when boys and girls weren’t allowed to take PE together, are in some cases so insufficient that we have students learning in hallways. There is no elevator in this wing of the building, and many of the spaces are inaccessible to anyone with mobility issues. Our locker rooms lack private changing spaces. Students of all genders identify this as a problem, and it’s a particular concern for our gender-nonconforming students.

Oak Park and River Forest High School has a long tradition of providing excellent education for the whole person; healthy students exercise their minds and their bodies. For that reason, we’ve engaged this work with the understanding that Project 2 spaces are first and foremost classrooms, where virtually all 3,400 students receive instruction every single day for four years of high school.

Thursday is just the beginning of the Project 2 conversation. After this initial discussion, which will be primarily about the scope of the project, the board’s next challenge is to determine a funding plan by May 2023. All funding options will be on the table as our team works with our board to determine how to meet these student needs while causing the least financial burden possible to taxpayers, one of our core responsibilities.

There’s no doubt that Project 2 comes with a large price tag at a time of significant challenges to the economy. The estimate we’re presenting on Thursday night is for $99.5 million, and that’s before potential add-ons will be considered. But the needs of our facilities are sizable, and they aren’t going away.

Open session begins in the Board Room at 7:30 p.m.

Bringing these learning spaces into alignment with the needs of this century’s students is long overdue. Students and teachers have been asked to keep doing their best in substandard facilities for decades. They, and our community, deserve high-quality facilities that meet their needs and those of generations to come.

Dr. Greg Johnson is superintendent of Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200, as well as the parent of OPRF High School students in the classes of 2021 and 2023. For information about Project 2, please visit bit.ly/OPRFfacilities.

Join the discussion on social media!