D200 weighs community center funds

School district could loan reserves or bond proceeds for project

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

The Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 school board has narrowed in on three possible funding scenarios for a proposed community recreational center that is still light on details, such as where it would be located and how, specifically, it will be operated. 

Since at least May, talks between District 200 and the park districts of Oak Park and River Forest have been heating up regarding the prospect of a community recreational center that would feature an indoor swimming pool, among other amenities, to be used by residents in both villages. 

In May, the taxing bodies had settled on three possible but unidentified sites for the center, with costs ranging from $36 million to $38 million for one option, from $41 million to $43 million for a second option and from $45 million to $47 million for a third option.

During a District 200 school board meeting on Oct. 26, board members considered three different scenarios related to the proposed community center. 

One funding scenario contemplates District 200 not participating in the funding of a community recreation center. If the board chooses that direction, the school district still would be on schedule to go for an operating referendum by 2024, since the district's cash reserves are predicted to fall below 40 percent of total expenditures.

Another scenario calls for the park districts and District 200 each to commit $5 million for the construction of the community center. In addition, District 200 would loan the Park District of Oak Park $25 million. According to school officials, it would take the park district at least 20 years to pay the loan back with new revenue raised from the community center. 

If that anticipated revenue fell short, park district officials have explained, then the park district would pay down the loan with funds from their capital improvement plan. 

District 200 Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams said that there was some discussion among officials from OPRF and the Park District of Oak Park about the "notion of an escrow account being set aside" if the park district could not make the payments. She said that the interest on the loan would be negotiated between the park district and District 200. 

Under this scenario, District 200, with cash reserves at roughly 43 percent of expenditures by 2021, would need to go out for an operating referendum in 2022. 

A third funding scenario entails each taxing body contributing $5 million to the community center with District 200 putting up $25 million more as a bond issue, which would be paid down each year by the Park District of Oak Park. 

Under this scenario, the school district's fund balance would be around 39 percent of its expenditures by 2023 and the school district predicts it would need to go out for an operating referendum that year.

Whether the school district decided to release the $25 million through a loan or through bonds, the bulk of that money would be allocated in fiscal year 2019, according to District 200 financial projections. 

During the Oct. 26 meeting, Karin Sullivan, the district's communications director, said that when it comes to the bonding scenario, the school district would be wise to consider the experience two years ago, when residents forced the school district to scrap a plan to pay for a proposed swimming pool with non-referendum bonds.   

"Our community made it clear that they wanted us to go out for a referendum if we're going to issue bonds," Sullivan said. "So there is a timing piece to think about. If that scenario were to come into play, we'd be talking about potentially going out for a bond referendum and within a few years going out for an operating referendum. From a messaging standpoint, that's a hard thing to explain to the community." 

During the Oct. 26 meeting, Pruitt-Adams said that the district had followed up with its bond counsel to ensure that the third funding scenario was legally sound. 

"Other communities have done it," said Altenburg. "Maybe not to the extent we're thinking, but they've done it."  

District 200 school board members said that they still need some specifics before deciding on whether or not to go ahead with the project. 

"We're still looking for more, deeper information," said school board President Jackie Moore. "We have to have enough information for us to make an informed decision and to reflect and not just have conjecture." 

Back in May, Park District of Oak Park Executive Director Jan Arnold and River Forest Park District Executive Director Michael Sletten both reported that numerous focus group meetings, feasibility studies, surveys and public meetings showed significant public support for a community recreation center financed and used by multiple stakeholders. 

Sletten said back then that a survey the park district completed in March showed that a significant number of River Forest residents provided unsolicited support for an indoor pool. 

As the community center proposal has come into focus, however, some residents have demonstrated their opposition. For instance, a recent online survey administered by River Forest Park District officials, which was open from Sept. 19 to Oct. 6, showed significant disapproval among River Forest residents of a community center built in Oak Park. 

Over 65 percent of 275 residents who responded said they would not utilize a community center that was located in Oak Park, south of Lake Street and east of East Avenue. In addition, around 57 percent of respondents said they would not support the use of River Forest Park District capital funds for the proposed center.  

Other residents have come out against the proposal after learning that District 200 still plans to build a smaller pool on its campus that would be used for gym classes and aquatics competition, even if the board approves funding the community recreation center. 

"This is a classic case unfair competition," Landers said, adding that the center, which would offer competitive services, would be paying "zero taxes."

"This is not dissimilar to the government getting into the pizza business," he said. 

Moore said that the District 200 board anticipates having more concrete information sometime in the coming weeks before making a decision by Dec. 1, which is when the school board has to vote on whether or not to fund the center, according to a memorandum of understanding that was approved by the three taxing bodies in August.  

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

Reader Comments

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Benjamin Hill  

Posted: November 10th, 2017 8:36 PM

The "all chip in community" idea was a great idea - when it was originally proposed. Not now after the $ invested in Ridgeland and the rejected OPRFHS pool referendum. Here's where D200 could put limited resources toward - https://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/illinois/districts/oak-park---river-forest-sd-200/oak-park-and-river-forest-high-school-6903 tl;dr - OPRFHS is not ranked in IL. The pool isn't going to help this. Regarding swimming instruction, offer it as a class during the summer at Ridgeland (D200 rents the pool for a day for classes) and that way the students can achieve their swimming "proficiency" in the summer anyway during summer schools, like they do with keyboarding or financial literacy.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: November 10th, 2017 2:36 PM

Barbara I am all in for changing the high school competitive (and beyond) sports model, particularly as to who pays. I do want to comment on your retractable dome idea though. My understanding is that while it theoretically could be done, the costs involved for a durable and sound retractable dome are truly enormous. Perhaps one of our resident architects could speak to this issue and provide a dose of reality and expertise here.

Barbara Purington  

Posted: November 10th, 2017 1:16 PM

@Maureen, well put. I say lets's keep things simple and get it done. Put a dome over Ridgeland Commons pool, the kind where the roof opens, the walls can roll upward on warm days. If Munster can build a ginormous Natorium for $20,000k, a dome should cost less. @Bruce Kline, what to you think about this idea? Refunds for parents of couch potatoes who will never play on an OPRFHS competitive sports team. Let's see, x 4 years = ...could add up.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: November 10th, 2017 9:38 AM

This Community Center idea seems far too elaborate to me. One very important thing we need to keep in mind are the "public" facilities we already have that could perhaps be put to better use. Many of our parks have community centers where all sorts of classes are held for children and adults, and rooms are available for groups to use. We have 10 elementary schools with gymnasiums - I know the Park District offers some programming at the schools, mostly for children I think - why couldn't these programs be expanded? The schools also have multipurpose rooms where community groups can hold meetings. If a facility with an indoor pool is built, why does it also have to duplicate functions already available in the community in other public facilities?

Bruce Kline  

Posted: November 8th, 2017 7:07 PM

Neal: The conventional response would be that sports are part and parcel of a well rounded education. And hence a foundational high school education should include sports and importantly competitive teams. For the teams teach much more than just their sport. They teach physical fitness, commitment, team work ?" all characteristics translatable to later life in "the real world." That said, I agree with you. Because for all the purported benefits of high school competitive sports, the original basic mission of our schools ?" "reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic" and their modern permutations - is being short changed. And that means our kids are being short changed and are not being prepared for a truly competitive world. In my opinion, there is far too much emphasis ?" both monetary and emotional - on competitive sports in the United States. You know something is wrong when the highest paid employee on a state university campus is the head football coach or basketball coach. That misplaced value has filtered down to our high schools. Specifically, at OPRFHS, I and many others found it unconscionable to spend tens of millions of dollars on an enormous swimming pool benefitting a relative few ?" particularly in the face of so many academic needs and deficits. I think the OPRF hockey club team serves as an excellent template for high school sports in general and OPRF specifically. Their template, as I understand it, is the team and its coaches are largely participant supported, similar to the high school sports model you describe in Germany. So the question is, if the costs of competitive sports should be largely borne by its participants rather than the taxpayer, does that apply to other extracurricular activities such as performing arts as well?

Neal Buer  

Posted: November 7th, 2017 8:19 PM

This money grab brings up a fundamental issue - Why do taxpayers pay for any athletic teams? My daughter, a millenial, lives in Germany. They educate their students for $7,000 a year instead of our $20,000. All sport teams are sports clubs, paid for by the players and supporters. My son in law is a school teacher and is paid a living wage. Any thoughts?

Bruce Kline  

Posted: November 7th, 2017 4:34 PM

Hi Jacek: As Maureen pointed out the WJ on 5/26/17 was very clear on this point: Executive Director Arnold "said that a recreation center in Oak Park could feature three pools, including zero-depth and therapy pools..." To repeat that is THREE physically separate pools; not one pool with three functions. I take it then - from your comment to me - that you might agree that this is indeed an overly exuberant financial commitment to aquatic sports. .

Jacek Lazarczyk  

Posted: November 7th, 2017 3:50 PM

Maureen, I do not understand your comment about equating swimming instruction with mathematics and language instructions. There is a great variety of programs at OPRF; do you have them ranked in the order of importance? Is this an objective ranking? I would agree with you though, that where absolutely pressed, we should hold on, at all cost, to language and math... and 15 minutes of impact free gymnastics outdoors.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: November 7th, 2017 2:17 PM

Jason. We're not Beverly Hills. We don't live in 90210. Whether our taxing bodies know it or not (and they certainly act as if they don't), funds ARE limited in 60302 and environs. So we have to make choices. My point: if as a community we agree to this rather extensive IGA recreational center, please explain why D200 then needs to spend additional tax dollars (OUR money remember) for their OWN separate on campus pool?

Jason Cohen  

Posted: November 7th, 2017 1:53 PM

I think we are losing some of the value of this facility because we keep connecting it to the needs of the HS. I certainly understand why as that's part of the value. I voted no on the pool referendum but I would vote yes for this. The reason is this is for the whole community and it's about much more than just swimming. There's basketball, volleyball, badminton, indoor soccer, running, and exercise classes. I am sure I am leaving out other offerings they could have there. Do we have some of these options now and also have gyms we can join? Sure we do but given that we have limited space in our village now it would be great to have more opportunities to offer these services. Our village is also growing whether we like it or not so we will need more options soon or we will end up having to go with lotteries for everything which is how a lot of the park district classes work today.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: November 7th, 2017 1:53 PM

Tom you are absolutely correct. For some reason a relatively small group of true believers have superimposed their evangelical enthusiasm for a particular sport - swimming - on the whole community ... and at a considerable cost. Somehow the D200 school board as well as the superintendent has bought into this. The result has been an irrationally exuberant and expensive swim requirement at the high school, virtually unheard of at any other school of note. Is it a good idea to be able to swim? Absolutely. But this can be accomplished far more cost effectively through an off campus Red Cross competency and water safety skills course during the summer (or other times for that matter). If necessary the school could even subsidize the course tuition - which would still result in enormous cost savings over a gigantic pool or pools. The present swim policy at the school is simply irrational and far too costly. There ARE better ways.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 7th, 2017 12:04 PM

Jacek - I had kids in those schools and I like those schools. What I object to is additional property taxes for every additional luxury people dream up. And the waste, as we see at D97 now as they want to spend a small fortune on space to store paper, because free storage at Office Depo is not an option. We already have excellent park district pools, so every kid in town can learn to swim already during a summer program. OPRF could pay for every kid to take lessons as a summer school program for a tiny amount. as an alternative to a new pool for the high school, which will be impossibly expensive. The pool is not a "must have". Other needs out weigh it. Or we can bus people out of town who can no longer afford to live here, which is what the rent increases and tax increase you want so badly will do.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: November 7th, 2017 12:02 PM

Jacek, the Munster HS Aquatic Center opened in 2011 at a cost of $17 million, which in today's dollars equates to $20 million. Have the local taxing bodies proposed building a Munster-like aquatics facility for $20 million?

Kline Maureen  

Posted: November 7th, 2017 11:57 AM

Jacek, it may be one facility but the plan that the Park District presented after the all the community focus groups was a facility with THREE SEPARATE POOLS, each to function as described. Perhaps one pool could serve all three functions, but that was not what was presented. A WJ article from 5-26-2017 explains this. Plus, as has been stated, OPRFHS would still have its own on-campus pool. Also, do you really mean for anyone to entertain the possibility that teaching swimming in the public schools is as vital a function as teaching language and math skills?

Jacek Lazarczyk  

Posted: November 7th, 2017 11:42 AM

Bruce, those are three functions, not three pools, that can be contained within one facility. And, Tom, if I am hearing you correctly, since you do not have any kids in D97 or D200 you would be happy to dispose with all of the education related expenses, save for busing kids to Maywood, right?

Nick Polido  

Posted: November 7th, 2017 11:36 AM

"Our community made it clear that they wanted us to go out for a referendum if we're going to issue bonds," Sullivan said. "So there is a timing piece to think about. If that scenario were to come into play, we'd be talking about potentially going out for a bond referendum and within a few years going out for an operating referendum. From a messaging standpoint, that's a hard thing to explain to the community." Karen Sullivan Paying Karen Sullivan a $100,000 as communication director for this quote! Let me help her : District 200 wants to raise your taxes significantly in different referendums to help facilitate our past mismanagement : We appreciate your past support.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: November 7th, 2017 12:11 AM

I agree this is a total scam. Sure we build a community based pool or pools (remember the focus group wanted a recreational pool, a competition pool, a warm rehab pool ... THREE pools for God's sake!!!) and OPRF HS STILL wants its OWN pool - perhaps a great big one as well. Ludicrous! Inane! Insane!

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 6th, 2017 3:01 PM

Land is cheap in Munster Jacek. Raising property taxes in Oak Park to provide the luxury of a new olympic pool is an even worse idea once the new income taxes come in, capping the property tax write off at $10k a year. We are already paying the D97 tax increase you wanted, so go easy on the pool.

Jacek Lazarczyk  

Posted: November 6th, 2017 11:49 AM

On Sunday, my 12-year old and I attended a swim meet in Munster High School in Indiana. What a great facility; 10 lanes wide, 50 meters long, with ample spectators area. The long pool was divided into two sections, where races were run simultaneously. A quick check on their website says that the pool serves the high school, Munster swim team, and is open to recreational swimming. They do not bus anybody to Maywood, Tom.

Kevin Anderson  

Posted: November 5th, 2017 7:53 AM

I have reported this scam message from Sixties Milli.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: November 4th, 2017 9:53 AM

Ben, your skepticism is understandable based on D200's efforts to overspend on pool water since 2013. Moreover, OPRF rebuffed the park district's previous attempt to collaborate on building a pool just off-campus at Ridgeland because the school didn't want to share resources. It had our overtaxed money sitting in its cash reserve and wanted its own pool on campus. Period. Since talks began on this latest proposal, the superintendent has repeatedly asserted that a joint pool wouldn't preclude OPRF from building its own pool on campus. Under the guise of collaboration, the superintendent's comments position the school for TWO new pools, an off-campus, community/high school pool and an on-campus, high school-only pool. A collaborative pool would be the most pragmatic solution for all, as long as it is structured to be financially self-sustaining. There is nothing pragmatic about OPRF building another pool on campus and wasting our taxpayer dollars on excessive pool water.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 3rd, 2017 11:19 AM

Spending tens of millions so that a hundred kids can be on a swim team at OPRF is a huge and elitist waste of tax dollars. As Jacek says, a good solution could be busing the swim team to Maywood. It is time to consider not offering sports that require tens of millions of dollars. We can still have the finest track and field, basketball, wrestling and baseball teams without raising everyones taxes and rents.

Jacek Lazarczyk  

Posted: November 3rd, 2017 10:09 AM

Ramona, Fenwick does have a pool and it cannot fit all the programs. Their swim team practices in Maywood. YMCA does have a pool and it cannot fit all the programs. YMCA's swim team practices at OPRF (with ceiling crumbling into the water). Either way you look at it there is not enough for the community of this size. OPRF pools are past their useful lives and every each day they manage to hold water is a gift.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: November 2nd, 2017 3:10 PM

Ramona Lopez: Plus, there was an indoor pool at Oak Park Hospital that if my memory is correct the Park District administered for a while.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: November 2nd, 2017 2:57 PM

Doesn't Fenwick have a indoor pool? Why is it 2 private organizations can manage to construct indoor pools? They have nowhere near the financial resources the park district or the high school have, yet somehow "figure out" how to construct them without being a financial burden. Perhaps our local government officials could learn a thing or 2 about finances from the private sector.

Jacek Lazarczyk  

Posted: November 2nd, 2017 11:03 AM

Benjamin, I think this process addresses the issues raised by the "pragmatic pool solution" group. We are no longer talking about the high school exclusive olympic size pool. If not the community pool, that high school will have access to, what do pragmatic people propose?

Jenna Brown Russell  

Posted: November 1st, 2017 9:28 PM

@Neal, better yet, think of the employees that may be laid off at FFC and Tennis & Fitness Center. Where are they going to swim once we back their competition? A competitor unfettered by trifling ephemera, such as profitable facilities' management.

Benjamin Hill  

Posted: November 1st, 2017 6:14 PM

I'm just smh - the people in the community were asking for this before the expenditure was made on the current RIdgeland Commons - that's what the articles I posted are saying. For the life of me, I didn't understand then why the intergovernmental groups didn't come together then. Methinks now this is a way to get the community to agree to a pool, and the associated costs, that the failed referendum guys wanted - but make it broader than just the high school. But that's just the conspiracist/ pessimist in me...

Jason Cohen  

Posted: November 1st, 2017 4:47 PM

@Jacek, I agree completely. People constantly complain about the fact that our local governmental groups never work together and now that they are it's still not good. Again let's see what the final proposal looks like before assuming this is a terrible idea.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: November 1st, 2017 4:45 PM

@Neal, what I would like is for the community to look to help each other and that's what a "community" center can do for all of us. Forget about me and think about those that live in our community that can't afford a gym and will now have a nice facility to use. Let's also wait to understand what this will actually cost all of us before assuming it's a terrible idea. You know try to get all the facts before making a judgement.

Jacek Lazarczyk  

Posted: November 1st, 2017 3:55 PM

The only indoor pool in Oak Park is located at the YMCA. This pool cannot fit all the demand there is in the community. The OPRF high school pools are the oldest in the nation are about to collapse. This cooperation between our local institution is a good thing. Isn't it what the "pragmatic pool solution" people advocated for last November?

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: November 1st, 2017 3:13 PM

Put a roof over the pool at Ridgeland Commons, make the high school share it with the community. End of story, every one wins. I just hope it doesn't cost $20 million to do it.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: November 1st, 2017 2:44 PM

Jason Cohen: To clarify your comments, you are stating you want taxpayers to pay your monthly gym membership for you. SMH.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: November 1st, 2017 2:14 PM

I am confused as to why this is a bad idea. One of the big issues with the cost of the new HS pool was the fact that so few people were going to be able to take advantage of it. This will bring new swimming options all year plus multiple gym options. This will actually bring in revenue from things like basketball competitions that can't be hosted in OP now. Even if the HS does build a small pool this is still a great option. We don't have any facility like this now and I for one would like to be able to go to an OP facility to swim, run and play ball without paying some monthly gym membership. It also seems like the HS and the parks district are actually working together which is great. How about we hear more concrete plans before deciding this is a terrible idea? I also think it's pretty funny that the RF people will only come to this if it's in a certain part of OP because driving those extra 2 minutes will be such a pain. :-)

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: November 1st, 2017 1:37 PM

This is just more crazy talk from crazy board members who are clueless as to the suffering of taxpayers. SMH.

Benjamin Hill  

Posted: October 31st, 2017 10:33 PM

Wait a second...this sounds familiar...wasn't this proposed by members of the community 6-10 years ago when Ridgeland was being considered? The community was asking why OPRFHS couldn't partner with the park district? Now, after the park district has renovated Ridgeland (and didn't put the pool indoor or put a covering on it - which was also asked for), now we are going to still spend the same amount of money that just failed the referendum at OPRFHS, but spread it out to OP and RF, which still rolls into our taxes...Look at these letters from the past! http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/11-29-2011/Oak-Park-park-district-should-enclose-the-Ridgeland-Pool/ http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/10-21-2011/Park-District-of-Oak-Park-OKs-Ridgeland-Common-overhaul/ http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/2-7-2012/New-advocacy-group-pitches-year_round-pools-in-Oak-Park/ http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/2-14-2012/Ensure-year_round-swimming,-skating-in-Oak-Park-and-River-Forest/ http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/11-22-2011/Park-District-of-Oak-Park-hears-citizens'-ideas-for-rebuilt-Ridgeland-Common/ smh....

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 31st, 2017 8:00 PM

How can one get on the next focus group, so "Hell NO" can be the focus.

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