D200 board chimes in on Imagine costs

Board split on what to do with high school's south end

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

The Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 Board of Education has reached a consensus on some aspects of Imagine OPRF's long-term master facilities plan, which calls for a series of capital improvements estimated to cost $219 million and which could take up to a decade to complete. 

During a Committee of the Whole meeting on Dec. 11, most board members expressed support for the administration's recommendation to embark on a first phase of projects that would include the renovation of 76 general education classrooms, among other instruction-related projects. The cost for those improvements is an estimated $32.6 million and could take up to four years to complete. 

Board members also expressed support for the administration's recommendation to take $20 million from OPRF's more than $100 million operating fund balance to create a capital reserve fund for future construction projects. 

They were also in support of immediately laying the groundwork for attracting private dollars that might help pay for much-needed improvements. 

But the board was divided when it came to how to approach the physical needs of OPRF's south campus, where physical education classes and athletics are concentrated. 

During the Dec. 11 meeting, D200 Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams said that the board could consider committing an estimated $65.4 million to a range of projects that include the replacement of the district's aging pools, the construction and/or renovation of locker rooms for boys and non-binary students, the installation of an ADA-compliant elevator at the south end of the high school, among other projects.

Some board members indicated that they would not support spending $65.4 million on athletics-related projects when, in their opinion, some critical options for minimizing those costs, such as exploring the feasibility of removing a mandatory swimming requirement, have not been sufficiently explored. 

"In terms of the swimming requirement, I know I asked a few months ago — echoing concerns or questions from the community — could we explore a path to allow some capable swimmers to opt-out?" said Baron.

"And the response was that it's part of a six-year curriculum review in the physical education program. And with Imagine being charged with looking to the future and really trying to look out 10 to 20 years and beyond of preparing our students for the future, I am disappointed that we seem to be institutionally holding onto a relic of the past, of a swimming requirement that doesn't make sense anymore." 

Baron said that Imagine did not look into the swim requirement and that, in general, "there's just not even an openness to exploring it." 

Pruitt-Adams, however, said that she "would respectfully disagree" that the district has refused to look into, "or are resistant to," the idea. She added that looking into the swimming curriculum was not the task given to Imagine, which was responsible for evaluating how facilities impact the educational environment. 

Pruitt-Adams also pointed out that changing the swimming curriculum, something she said the administration would look into, was not relevant to the size of the proposed aquatics facility. 

"If we do delay 14 or 18 months before exploring [south end improvements] further, I would ask my colleagues on the board to join me in calling for at least an exploration of that issue," Baron said of the swimming requirement. 

Iseli said that he wasn't ready to support the $65.4 million expenditure "until I feel we've exhausted" other compromises, such as exploring whether or not PE facilities need to be located on campus.

"Imagine focused on how to fit this within the footprint of the building and that's an assumption that isn't a hard fact," Iseli said. "There are lots of [high schools] with PE facilities that aren't located at their site."

But for members like Jennifer Cassell and Jackie Moore, the discussion seemed like déjà vu. 

"I feel like I'm in the twilight zone," Cassell said. "We need to have a better understanding of some of the uncertainties you guys are talking about, [but] I'm concerned that, in 18 months, we're going to still be waffling back and forth about whether or not we need to have a swimming program, or extracurricular aquatics programs on campus."

Moore said that she needs "to understand what our commitment to our PE program is" and expressed support for the notion that equity should not be limited to classroom spaces, and that PE spaces are also instructional spaces — something that Pruitt-Adams and Imagine members said has been demonstrated by student feedback they collected during the long-term facilities planning process.  

The school board could make a decision on how to proceed with at least the $32.6 million phase of the long-term master facilities plan at its regular meeting on Dec. 20. 

Correction: A previous version of this article misrepresented the views of board member Fred Arkin. This article has since been updated for clarification. Wednesday Journal regrets the error. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com    

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Brian Slowiak  

Posted: December 21st, 2018 9:45 PM

@ Jason Cohen and Tom Coffman: I couldn't agree more and have expressed those sentiments before. Just wondering, does the P.E. have the accreditation to teach the non-swimmers component.? Does anyone on the P.E. staff have the emergency life threating accredited skills for mouth to mouth procedures? Have the P.E. staff had life guard instruction?

Neal Buer  

Posted: December 21st, 2018 8:49 AM

Anyone know what the board did last night?

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: December 20th, 2018 1:11 PM

Write the board at boe@oprfhs.org and tell them to stop this insanity. Their meeting is tonight.

Amanda Poppenk Massie from Oak park  

Posted: December 20th, 2018 6:57 AM

Athletics have their place at a high school, BUT we send our kids there to be educated first. The educational facilities should be done first, period. By the time all thats done then revisit the athletics, if there's any money left. Remember, the costs are all "estimates". We all know what happens when you start remodeling old houses/buildings.... the estimates go up, alot. We don't NEED spectator seating for 650 for whatever size pool we build, that's ridiculous. Glad Matt and Craig, on the Board spoke out. It's abour time. Hinsdale"s Board is now cancelling football and swimming as a result of the failed referendum. Plain old blackmail in my book. Sounds like the same tactics used in the White House. Enough already, fix the facilities that will benefit EDUCATION.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: December 19th, 2018 5:26 PM

@Tom, I completely agree. My older son is a junior and said the same. He knows how to swim. Most of the kids know how to swim. We are teaching kids to swim that know how and not only that we want to spend an obscene amount to continue to do so. I think we should teach kids how to swim that need it. Let's have an after school program for free where kids can be taught swimming. The cost of transportation and external pool use can't possibly be that much.

Tom Coffman  

Posted: December 19th, 2018 4:38 PM

Good for Mr Baron to question the requirement. As an OPRF grad, I remember doing all I could to avoid swimming, and my three kids who all graduated did their best to avoid it as well. They all know how to swim, and found other ways to exercise. How about some vouchers for Park District lessons, or a free summer pass to the pools instead.

Kevin Brubaker  

Posted: December 19th, 2018 4:36 PM

In what world is the swimming graduation requirement immaterial to the decision of whether to build pools, as our superintendent claims!?! Is she asserting that we need to spend $46 million on pools SOLELY for the benefit of the swim teams? Before we do that, let's consider alternatives - like spending $46 million on an equestrian team.

Josh Vanderberg  

Posted: December 19th, 2018 4:03 PM

It's now been a few years since the failed pool referendum. Since then, taxes have gone up, significantly, for many of us. A future referendum will likely fail as well, by more than just a few votes. So, if the Board makes a plan that involves going to referendum, what's the plan for when it fails? Best to not plan a referendum, especially since there's $100 million in the bank account. With that money, the board should be able to figure out a way to address most of the major issues the building has, replace the pool, and save for a rainy day. Failure to do so would be a major failure of leadership. And to answer Cassell, this is the twilight zone, where else would you give a citizen led commission no budget and carte blanche to create a renovation plan with no limits and no constraints.

David Gullo  

Posted: December 19th, 2018 3:23 PM

Reality check D200 Board - (or perhaps those on D200 Board running for re-election) Want to know what area voters really think about historically high performing high schools that want to spends hundreds of millions on more pools & athletics facilities: https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/hinsdale-district-86-deals-with-budget-cuts-503080642.html

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: December 19th, 2018 11:58 AM

Dropping the swimming requirement is key, because without it, it becomes crystal clear that we would be spending tens of millions only for a minor sport so 100 kids can have a luxury experience. That money should be spent on things to help ALL the kids, not a tiny few. The so called swim requirement could easily and inexpensively be met in a summer school program at the Park District pools, just as drivers ed can get done in summer school. Stop wasting funds. Swimming can be a club sport, like hockey. Or we can live without it.

Neal Buer  

Posted: December 18th, 2018 7:34 PM

Hinsdale at least got to vote on their pool. Doesn't look like we will have that opportunity.

Terence Jones  

Posted: December 18th, 2018 4:36 PM

Hinsdale.

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