The Hinsdale school board met on Dec. 17 to discuss its next steps following its second failed referendum in as many years. District 86 board members stated that many people voted against the November referendum because of the proposed $39 million for 40-yard pools at its two high schools.
In response, the board voted and now supports the least expensive and smallest high school competition pools: 6-lane, 25-yard pools. The board said its pivot on the pools was in direct response to the wishes of the community. One board member said, "Part of leadership is acting on the community will." That's what every community should expect from its school board.
District 200 failed in its efforts to build a 50-meter pool, followed by a 40-meter pool. It's now pushing for a 37-meter or 40-yard pool, the same size as Hinsdale Central's failed referendum pool. D200's pool and its 600-seat natatorium are encased in the proposed $65 million Component D, and the huge pool is the underlying reason for the proposed demolition and rebuild of the structurally sound building. It's not financially feasible to build this size pool within the existing building based on 2014 estimates of $80-$87 million. The other elements in Component D, formerly Imagine's Sequence 2, can be accommodated through renovations.
At the Dec. 11 school board meeting, D200 board member Matt Baron raised a community request that the administration conduct a review of the self-imposed, mandatory swimming requirement before any decision is made on a pool. In response, Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams said, "The curriculum does not impact the size of the pool. That is a misconception. … We can look at the curriculum, but that has nothing to do with the size of the pool." Her comment underscores that a large pool isn't a need of the school; it's a want of a special interest group, OPRF's aquatic teams and the private swim club TOPS. The aquatic teams stated the same in their 2013 natatorium proposal.
The proposed 17-lane practice pool isn't a want of the community. D200's Fako Report, the only scientific, statistically-significant voter survey on OPRF's pools and replacement options, showed that a pool was not a priority for the community, and it rejected all three pool plans under consideration in 2016. Voters' strongest rejection, 69%, was for the most expensive plan at $68 million, close in estimated price to Component D.
At the Dec. 20 meeting, despite recommendations by the administration and the Imagine group, the D200 board declined to commit to funding Component D now. Instead, the board voted to transfer $20 million from the Education Fund to a new capital reserve fund and stated that the money was earmarked for the "urgent" facility needs in Component D: locker rooms, an ADA-compliant elevator and a pool solution. The administration is now pursuing private money to augment this fund.
If donors want to fully finance the estimated $65 million Component D and establish an endowment to cover the oversized pool's operating costs, build it. Otherwise, the D200 board should be responsive to the community and choose the common-sense and least-expensive solution: a collaborative year-round pool at Ridgeland Commons for $14.5 million total, according to a 2017 estimate. OPRF's Adventure Ed gym class already walks to Ridgeland to skate in its rink.
Monica Sheehan is a member of OPRF Pragmatic Solutions.
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