Aquatic schematic design, aka the new pool. | Provided

Wednesday Journal’s Dec. 7 cover story on OPRF’s Imagine Project 2 includes the charge that the Imagine OPRF Working Group was “stacked with aquatic team parents,” as if the Imagine process were rigged from the start.

For those of us who served, the claim that the 40-person team was actually a colossal pool conspiracy with a single agenda isn’t so much insulting as simply uninformed. Perhaps a quick refresher is in order.

In 2017, the District 200 school board tasked 30 community members and 10 OPRF High School faculty and staff — a diverse, representative cross-section of Oak Park and River Forest — with an immense but clear mission: investigate and analyze every space within the million-square-foot building, identify space needs and safety concerns, and prioritize those needs.

We were determined to perform our work through the lens of equity; to consider every stakeholder; to investigate and analyze information without prejudging it; and to be completely transparent with the board, students, faculty, families, and community. Our work ranged across many fronts simultaneously:

●     We toured the entire building multiple times, and toured specific spaces with the faculty members who taught there, to see firsthand how classrooms functioned and/or presented challenges.

●     We toured peer high schools that had recently completed capital improvements, to see how other schools approached similar challenges (and bring ideas and solutions back to OPRF).

●     We met with stakeholders. We held 29 student focus groups (over 650 participated). We held at least 29 meetings with department heads and administrators, at least 21 work team listening meetings with faculty, and countless additional conversations. We conducted surveys of stakeholders, including faculty, students, coaches, club sponsors, and athletes.

●     We considered engineering, architectural, and consultant reports from previous decades, to gain an understanding of previous assessments and recommendations.

●     We showed our work. At public town halls we presented initial information gathered, initial assessments, draft conclusions, draft recommendations. Hundreds attended. The incredibly helpful community feedback was incorporated into the team’s analysis.

As our team of volunteers worked over the months, I learned that many of the other members had a wide range of experiences and points of view: some had voted for the 2016 referendum, some — like me — voted against it, but all volunteered to serve because they offered a valuable skill or had a useful background. Architects, project managers, engineers, bankers, educators, elected officials, and more — each of us thought we could contribute to a process the community could trust. Nobody represented an interest group. Nobody pushed a personal agenda.

The only members of the team openly known to have been for or against the 2016 referendum were our two co-chairs, Lynn Kamenitsa and Mike Poirier. Each had been a leader on opposite sides during the referendum campaign. They put that fight behind them and were wonderful leaders of the team throughout the grueling process.

In 2018 the team’s final report, still available at the D200 website, served as the basis for the now nearly complete Imagine Project 1 and the remaining multiple phases of capital improvements to come.

Our process to create that plan may not have been perfect. But it’s hard to imagine a process that would be more transparent, more inclusive, more thorough, and more worthy of our community’s trust.

Tim Brandhorst is a resident of River Forest.

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