OPRF project pool rendering

The much discussed and much argued about Project 2 at Oak Park and River Forest High School took a big step forward last week. To the surprise of no one the District 200 school board approved a nearly $102 million scope for Project 2 by a 6-0 vote at their Feb. 23. meeting. Based on this scope Project 2 is estimated to cost $101,757,790.

Plans call for demolition and rebuilding of the southeast portion of the OPRF building focusing on physical education facilities including a new 10 lane, 25 by 40 yard swimming pool with a 420 person capacity observation gallery, a new third floor three court gym, new locker rooms, including locker rooms for gender non-conforming students, a new weight room and training room, new PE classrooms, new offices, a new dance studio and a theater Green Room among other improvements.

“This is work that probably should have been done a decade or two ago,” said school board member Ralph Martire. “I think it will enhance the value of our homes. I think it’s past time to do it.”

Board member Kebreab Henry agreed.

“It is irresponsible to leave the school how it is now,” Henry said.

Before the vote board member Sara Spivy questioned the need for spending $379,593 to redo the portion of the south corridor that will be in the old part of the building. School board president Tom Cofsky also had doubts about that expense but the majority of the board thought that creating a unified look in the entire hallway was worth the cost. They noted that sections of OPRF were built at different times resulting in a hodge podge appearance in the building that does not create a unified look or feel.

“I don’t think this is purely cosmetic,” Martire said. “Rather it is to make the building flow together.”

Before the vote four people spoke in support of Project 2 during the public comment portion of the meeting and two people spoke against mostly reprising now familiar arguments that have been made repeatedly for months. Those speaking against Project 2, Monica Sheehan and Judith Alexander, noted the Committee for Equity and Excellence in Education (CEEE) raised concerns in a One View piece published in Wednesday Journal last week, saying that a true racial equity analysis (REA) has not been done on Project 2.

Henry criticized the opponents, although not by name, for using equity as a weapon in opposing the new swimming pool saying that equity should always be a concern and not just used for a pet issue.

“As a Black man who lives in Oak Park and we have true issues of equity that we fight and deal with every day I don’t appreciate you using that to get an agenda item across that you want to push,” Henry said. “Don’t do that, that’s offensive.”

Sheehan responded to Henry’s comments in an email sent to Wednesday Journal the next day.

“Mr. Henry did not dispute anything we said in our comments about the REA of Project 2,” Sheehan wrote. “His attack was an effort to deflect from the real issue that the REA was compromised, and its findings are not an accurate assessment of the racial equity impact of Project 2. It was another example of a school board member not holding the administration accountable and a deflection from the truth at the expense of community members.”

The school board will next have to decide how to finance Project 2.

“This vote is solely to determine the scope of the project, not the financing,” Cofsky said. He said the board hopes to decide how to pay for Project 2 by the end of the school year.

In January the school’s outside financial advisor presented five options, four of which include some sort of referendum, for financing Project 2. Most of the proponents of Project 2 favor the one option without a referendum saying that it is the fastest and cheapest option. The Community Finance Committee will meet on Feb. 28 to discuss and analyze the options.

“We’ve asked them to provide us with options,” Cofsky said. “We’ve said not one.”

But Cofsky says the school board and CFC will not be limited to those five options.

“Those were just a starting point,” Cofsky said.

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