Last week the Oak Park and River Forest High School board unanimously approved spending a little more than $17.3 million to construct a new 8 lane, 400 meter  track and new fields on the school’s campus among various other athletic improvements. The board approved bids totaling $17,335,486 which is down slightly from a previous estimate of $17.6 million. OPRF will use reserve funds to pay for the project.

The cost reduction came from a reworking of architect’s fees after District 200 board member Fred Arkin complained at the Nov. 3 Committee of the Whole Meeting about the rising costs of the project which was initially estimated to cost around $12 million.

“I almost feel we’re getting juiced on a juice loan because every time I come back the price is going up,” a frustrated Arkin said on Nov. 3.

The district’s architectural firm, FGMA, agreed to cap its fee for the track and field design work at $750,000 and $250,000 for design work for installing a geothermal heating and cooling system under the fields saving OPRF $272,226. The scope of the project also expanded resulting in nearly $1.8 million in additional costs, including $303,000 for stormwater detention.

OPRF currently does not have a competition sized outdoor running track. For the past two decades it has been using the track at Concordia University in River Forest for track and field practices and meets but Concordia is ending the track sharing agreement at the end of this year’s track season.

The package approved last week includes a new 400 meter track located west of the school, just north of Oak Park Stadium, where the baseball and softball fields currently are. The varsity baseball field will move across Lake Street and replace the current multipurpose fields with a small running track around it. That track will be eliminated. The varsity softball field will be east of the baseball field at the Park District of Oak Park’s Ridgeland Common. The baseball and softball fields will also be used for other sports, especially in the fall.

Bleachers around the new track will have a seating capacity of 300. The field within the new track will be used for field hockey, soccer, lacrosse, ultimate frisbee, cheer, drill team, Special Olympics and football although varsity football games will still be played at Oak Park Stadium. The new track and field will also be used for physical education classes. Community members will be able use the new track.

Lights will be added to the recently rebuilt tennis courts at a cost of $181,200. Security cameras will be installed to monitor the Lake Street and Ridgeland Common fields as well as the tennis courts and the west fields at cost of $291,400 which includes running fiber optic cable to the fields.

Arkin and school board president Tom Cofsky expressed reservations about the need for the security cameras but voted to approve the package. The board could still decide to reduce the scope of the project.

“I would like to pare back on things that are not a necessity,” Cofsky said before eventually casting a yes vote.

Sara Dixon Spivy, a board member, cast an enthusiastic yes vote.

“I’m super excited,” Spivy said after voting to approve the project.

New 60 foot high netting will be installed at the Lake Street fields at a cost of $368,000 to prevent balls from going on to Lake Street. The poles to support the netting account for the bulk of that cost. Administrators said that the existing netting needs to be replaced anyway.

The project will obviate the need to do just over $2.9 million in maintenance work over the next 10 years making the net cost of the project approximately $14.4 million.

The new track will also save the approximately $80,000 annual cost of shuttling athletes to the Concordia track for practices.

Pepper Construction will oversee the project which will be done next summer.

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