If you conduct an online search for $100 million school PE/sports facilities, you’ll find a few with names like the University of Miami and the University of Cincinnati, but you won’t find any public high schools. Why? Because their sports programs don’t generate the revenue needed to support such an expenditure, nor do they have big donors or tuition dollars augmenting it.
Oak Park and River Forest High School would be the outlier as the construction estimate for its proposed Project 2, a PE/sports addition, is $100 million. One would think that this estimate, which doesn’t include borrowing costs and things such as possible remediation that could push the total cost higher, would make it a nonstarter but actions by the District 200 school board suggest otherwise.
When the administration presented the construction estimate at the Oct. 27 meeting, some board members expressed surprise at the number which is significantly more than its Imagine Plan estimate. However, none stated the obvious: the need to reimagine Project 2 along with the remaining Imagine Plan, replacing it with a financially viable, buildable plan. Projects 2-5 would require the unnecessary, expensive demolition and rebuilding of the entire south end of the school. As a reminder, the Imagine Plan was developed without a budget. It’s an aspirational plan. Project 1 is already 25% over budget.
Project 2’s natatorium is a “want,” and the size is the only reason that the southeast corner of the school would need to be demolished and rebuilt. The other elements in the project could be achieved through renovation. A pool half the size of Project 2’s pool would meet the school’s needs.
Our community values academics and equity. There are classrooms, science labs, performing arts spaces and the Field House waiting to be addressed in Projects 3-5. Overspending on Project 2 would push off these needed renovations, perhaps beyond our lifetimes, which is unacceptable.
Superintendent Greg Johnson and Board President Tom Cofsky have stated that all funding options are on the table for Project 2, which means they’ll consider bypassing voters to finance the controversial project. As a reminder to Cofsky and the board, they have a fiduciary duty to taxpayers, which means that they are bound, legally and ethically, to act in taxpayers’ best interests, who have made it clear that they want to decide how their money is spent.
Please consider emailing the superintendent, email@example.com, and the board, firstname.lastname@example.org, to reimagine the Imagine Plan and underscore that its funding needs to go to referendum for voter approval.
Monica Sheehan is a resident of Oak Park.