Exterior schematic design for Imagine OPRF Project 2. | PROVIDED

Potential donors making notable pledges to help fund Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200’s $102 million Project 2 could ask to have their name publicly recognized on the outdoor track facility, but it would cost them $2 million. 

As the project moves forward, with the board’s unanimous approval during a February board meeting, the district along with Oak Park and River Forest High School Imagine Foundation, a nonprofit organization, believe the option for naming recognition allows them to include their strong alumni community and those who show interest in being involved in the facility work, said Karin Sullivan, executive director of communications at OPRF.

So far the foundation says it has pledges of $12.5 million and is aiming higher. Those private dollars will have some impact on the overall plan to finance the project, a process still being debated at the school board level.

“It’s an opportunity to recognize people’s generosity towards the district and some folks might want to donate in the name of let’s say a coach who was really meaningful to them or a teacher,” Sullivan said. “So not only can they be recognized for their donation, but it is also an opportunity for them to honor someone who was influential in their life.” 

 During the Feb. 23 school board meeting, Supt. Greg Johnson presented an item in the consent agenda, seeking to approve the naming recognition opportunity list as well as allow the foundation to act on behalf of the district to solicit donors. 

According to the list approved, naming recognition opportunities start at $25,000 for renovated classrooms for a period of 10 years and range up to $2,000,000 for the outdoor track facility for a duration of 15 years. 

Those donating $50,000 would be able to have their names on either the green room, the yoga and meditation room, or the dance/multipurpose room, while the new south commons are going for $1 million and the new aquatics facility for $1.5 million. 

Previous changes were made to the Board Policy 8:80 Gifts to the District, allowing the board to “recognize donors and other individuals through the naming of district buildings, parts of buildings, athletic fields, grounds or other district-owned property and facilities.”

Additionally, the policy states that all naming rights to district buildings, properties, and facilities belong only to the board. Sullivan said all donations would come with a contract and naming opportunities would be reviewed by the district before approved. 

The school’s Imagine Foundation was created by community volunteers to aid the district in funding the Imagine Plan through private philanthropy efforts, a practice that Lynn Kamenitsa, the foundation’s executive director, said was common in the private school sector. 

“The school was not going to be able to pay for all of the Imagine work that was going to happen over at least a decade but probably significantly longer,” Kamenitsa said. “We knew the school didn’t have the money to do that and we understood that taxpayers couldn’t just pay for all it either out of higher taxes, that wasn’t going to work in this community.”

Sullivan said the district is thrilled to work alongside the foundation and they are amazed at the commitments that they have already received. 

The Imagine OPRF project, a five-phase, long-term capital projects plan, was created in 2017 with the goal of creating a “comprehensive, fiscally responsible facilities plan that would support equity and current and future academic programming needs.” Kamenitsa played a lead role in the planning process.

The first phase, Project 1, broke ground in 2020 with most of the work completed by Fall 2022. This included the replacement of the south cafeteria, renovations to the main entrance and welcome center, and the addition of 15 new classrooms. The remaining 20 classrooms will be renovated during the summer. 

As Project 2 moves forward, the raised funds would help pay for the estimated $101,757,790 project, which would focus on the physical education facilities. The plan includes a new 10 lane, 25 by 40-yard swimming pool with a 420-person capacity observation gallery, new locker rooms, new weight rooms, new training rooms, new offices, and a new dance studio among other improvements. 

According to Kamenitsa, the creation of the list of renovations and new facilities that are open for naming recognition was a joint effort between the nonprofit and the district to show their gratitude to donors. This includes the Track and Field Project from the completed Project 1. 

“We anticipate that most gifts with naming recognition will be from individual alumni, local alumni families, or their family businesses,” Kamenitsa said. “Those are the people with the closest ties to OPRR.” 

While neither the foundation nor district expects to focus on any national corporations and don’t want to imply a type of “commercial, advertising relationship,” Kamenitsa said they would “entertain” those offers if approached.

Kamenitsa added that they do not expect naming recognition to be the driving force behind donors’ motive, adding it’s to say, ‘thank you,’ not a marketing ploy. 

“The majority of our donations will not have any naming recognition attached to them,” Kamenitsa said. “Even many donors of our larger gifts will not avail themselves of this form of public recognition.” 

As of now, the philanthropic efforts have paid off in favor of OPRF. 

The foundation is currently in the middle of privately meeting with prospective donors and have verbal pledges, putting them on pace to raise $12.5 million. Kamenitsa is confident the number will increase as they haven’t reached all potential leadership gift donors. Time is on their side, as the foundation hopes to continue to take pledges into early 2025, depending on the start date for Project 2. 

“The scenarios that are being considered now is that $12.5 million because that is solid and of course we are hopeful that the number will go up,” Sullivan said. “And any amount that we get from philanthropic donations reduces the amount that has to come from our fund balance or any debt that we might have to take on. It reduces the impact to taxpayer funds essentially.” 

If the district moves forward with a funding plan that does not need to go to referendum, the project would be able to be started by Summer 2024. If the funding option chosen requires a referendum, that vote would come next Spring, pushing the start date of the project to Summer 2025. 

“The hesitation is about the effect that it will have on the community for a year of contention around this issue that has already been the source of so much contention” said Sullivan, when asked if there was a hesitation from the district to go to referendum. 

While not everyone will have their name on the outdoor track facility, the district and the foundation hope to come up with a way to publicly recognize everyone who donates, at any level.

“We are well aware that some people can make gifts of six figures and that is fantastic and that might not be a huge hardship for them,” Kamenitsa said. “But some people who are going to give us 25 bucks, it is really meaningful to them too. It might be a hardship for some people, $50 might be a hardship for some people. We want to make sure that their commitment is recognized even though it is not the same magnitude.” 

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