The school board at Oak Park and River Forest High School is poised to approve the scope for the long discussed and debated Project 2 at OPRF at their next board meeting on Feb. 23. The school board is expected to approve the plan to demolish and rebuild the southeast portion of the high school and replace it with a new physical education wing which would include a new 25 yard by 40 yard swimming pool with a 420 seat observation gallery to replace the two existing pools at the school that were built in 1928. The project would also include new gyms, PE classrooms and other improvements.
The school administration is recommending, and the board is expected to approve, five alternate add ons to the base proposal that will raise the cost of Project 2 by $2,291,951 which will bring the total projected cost of Project 2 to $101,756,790. The board received the administration’s recommendations at its Committee of the Whole meeting on Feb. 9 and no board member raised any objections. None of the alternates were unexpected.
The most expensive alternate that will be added to the project is filling in the current west swimming pool and transforming the space into a dedicated physical education space for students with special needs as well putting in a trainer’s room with hydrotherapy, an office and storage space. That is projected to cost $1,293,036.
Another alternate expected to be approved is spending $379,593 to renovate the entire first floor South Hallway all the way to the fieldhouse instead of only the portion of the hallway in the new portion of the building. This will give the entire hallway a consistent finish aesthetic and branding for the hallway instead of splitting the hallway into a new portion and a portion with 1967 finishes.
Another alternative recommended for approval is spending $375,000 to enclose a low roof area. That is expected to reduce costs in the future on what is called Project 5 which includes future plans to build a new fieldhouse. The enclosed roof area would be used for storage or built out in the future. Mechanical equipment on the low roof will be moved to the high roof.
The administration is also recommending adding structural and electrical infrastructure to accommodate future solar panel installation in the new portion of the building. This is projected to cost $125,000. Another alternate to be added to the project is infilling the two story theater scene shop to create a second floor in the theater prop storage room at a projected cost of $119,332.
The administration and school board are rejecting five alternates including having an occupied roof area that would have cost approximately $964,000 which the administration described as nice to have but not necessary.
In addition to the new swimming pool Project 2 includes a new three court gym on the third floor with a seating capacity of 800, a multipurpose dance gym, a new weight room, additional physical education classrooms and offices, new boys and girls locker rooms as well as all gender locker rooms for gender non-conforming students, and an expanded green room for performing arts students.
“This isn’t a pool, this is a facilities plan with significant infrastructure,” said school board president Tom Cofsky.
The school board will decide in the coming months on how to pay for Project 2. It is expected to use a substantial portion of its approximately $90 million reserve fund and borrowed money. The big issue is whether the borrowed money would come from building bonds that would require voter approval in a referendum or debt certificates that would not require a referendum.
As has been typical at school board meetings for the past few months residents spoke both in favor and against Project 2 and commented on financing options in the public comment period of the meeting.
Four speakers were critical of the cost and scope of Project 2 and demanded that any borrowing for Project 2 be voted on in a referendum. Two people spoke in support of Project 2 and argued against a referendum saying that the delay a referendum would cause would only add to the costs of the project.
Those critical of the Project 2 said the school should explore working with the Park District of Oak Park to turn the swimming pool at Ridgeland Common into a year round swimming pool.
“The Ridgeland pool sits idle for nine months every year,” said Monica Sheehan, a long time critic of the Project 2 proposal. “A year round aquatic facility would meet the school’s needs and provide a wonderful resource for the community.”
Laura Huseby said the size of the proposed pool is not abnormally large.
“It allows our teachers to have more flexibility as they provide instruction to these students, particularly our students who are trying to learn to swim,” Huseby said. “These are instructional spaces. Putting a roof on Ridgeland simply doesn’t meet these curricular needs during a busy school day.”
Peter Ryan, a graduate of OPRF, said that physical improvements to the school are long overdue.
“We need to invest in this high school so that new families, people who move here from wherever, maybe even our kids’ kids (have) similar opportunities to those we had for generations to come,” Ryan said.
But Jeffrey Sobcynski and Jack Powers argued that Project 2 is too costly and argued for a reduced scope for the project. Sobcynski said the money could be better spent in other areas such as improving psychological services for students.
“My overarching question is how is a $100 million sports facility going to help educate students,” Sobcynski said.