'This feels different,' say OPRF Imagine members

Officials, members laud 'solutions-driven' approach

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

As Oak Park and River Forest High School's Imagine OPRF work group finishes up the information-gathering and assessment phases to come up with long-term solutions for the high school's facility needs, community members and district officials involved in the process are almost giddy about how smooth it's going. 

"I'm in my sixth year of working with these facilities discussions, and I feel like we are really getting somewhere now," said Karin Sullivan, District 200's communications director, during a Nov. 16 board meeting. 

Sullivan credited the work group's 43 volunteers, which includes community members and some district employees, for the progress. 

The District 200 school board created the work group in December 2016 on the recommendation of Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams, who spearheaded a similar effort at her former district in Missouri. The OPRF work group first met in August and is on track to make recommendations by early 2018. 

But work group leaders and district officials said they're not in a rush to draw conclusions or force a process they believe feels a lot more organic and naturally collaborative than previous initiatives. 

The road to replace OPRF's swimming pools stretches back at least a decade and is littered with dozens of community meetings, two long-term facility reports, a pool upgrade and relocation study, and other pool and/or facility-related documents. Those often contentious prior community efforts resulted in a failed referendum in November 2016. 

The ballot measure, which would have used up to $20 million from the district's fund balance to pay for a $44.5 million five-year facilities plan, lost by 28 votes. 

The Imagine group — which is divided into four teams that study academics/student achievement, athletics/extracurriculars, performing and fine arts, and physical conduction/safety and security — has been combing through those prior documents while conducting their own research and fact-finding. 

Last month, the group held its first community engagement session, during which around 60 community members participated. The chairs of the four work teams updated the public on the process. In addition, a representative from Perkins + Will, the architecture firm hired to consult the Imagine group, did a presentation on learning spaces of the future. 

"The feeling [among participants at the engagement session] was that this process was different," said Pruitt-Adams at last month's board meeting. "That it is open and transparent."

One of the Imagine group's two co-chairpersons, Mike Poirier — who had been against the November 2016 referendum — also described the group as a "fully community driven effort." Lynn Kamenitsa, the group's other co-chair, supported the November referendum. 

The two Imagine committee leaders, along with district administrators and board members, reinforced Pruitt-Adams' description of the current community engagement process. 

Poirier said that at last month's community engagement session, "a lot of community members were little bit surprised that they weren't going to be reviewing plans and proposals, and that they were engaged so early in the process. And even the next community engagement meeting won't be plans and proposals. The next meeting will be us sharing our conclusions." 

"We're working hard with our teams to no have them hone in on solutions," said Kamenitsa. "Even with all the data, we're still trying to grasp what happens in this building, how and where it happens, and what the shortcomings are. There are some themes that have emerged, but they are not solutions."

District 200 school board member Tom Cofsky praised that wait-and-see approach.

"What I'm hearing, which excites me, is that it's more needs-driven than solutions-driven as a process," Cofsky said. "Solutions are preconceived." 

Poirier said that "there's been very little chatter about solutions" among the work group members.

"Once people dug into the complexity of the issue and the complexity of understanding the current state [of facilities] and the job entailed in them, we all realized we have plenty on our plate," he said. "Solutions can wait." 

School board President Jackie Moore said that, with all of Imagine's progress, she would still like OPRF students to be more directly involved in the work group's efforts. Poirier and Kamenitsa said that they're thinking about how to implement some best practices to incorporate a diverse array of students into effort. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

Reader Comments

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Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 10th, 2018 1:16 PM

Jeanine, I want to apologize since I misspoke. The two pool solution was Legat's not Stantec's, as I mistakenly stated. And in fact Pragmatic Pool Solutions supported Legat's two pool solution in 2016. It was the most pragmatic of all of the options presented by D200. It was Stantec that presented a one-pool solution which was even more pragmatic. And D200 has never presented it to the community as an option. In its (Stantec) 2013 report, after its year-long, school board-commissioned review of pool options, Stantec concluded that an 8-lane, 25-yard pool in the East pool/South gym site would meet the school's aquatic needs and recommended it to D200. Stantec also stated that the school's current 11 swim lanes are a luxury for a high school, and that a larger pool was a stated preference of the school's internal committee (i.e a "want" ) not a need of the school.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 9th, 2018 7:03 PM

Jeanine: You are correct. But I do not think we need to talk about a GIANT pool again. We - D200 Pragmatic Pool Solutions - were not opposed to a pool if you recall. As a matter of fact we supported the D200 commissioned Stantec Report pointing out the feasibility of TWO new pools largely within the present foot print of the school. Of course all this is moot, since the proverbial ball is in IMAGINE's court. We await their proposal.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: January 9th, 2018 1:52 PM

Jacek, As Bruce pointed out, your allegation is indeed false. Many members of OPRF Pragmatic Pool Solutions volunteered to serve on Imagine, but their applications were denied. Despite my efforts and those of a couple others to balance the composition of Imagine's membership, we were unsuccessful because there was an obvious Vote Yes bias on the superintendent-appointed launch team. Only two of the 43 Imagine members were members of Pragmatic Solutions while nearly half of Imagine's members are known Vote Yes supporters and school employees. The lack of trust in the launch team process and resulting imbalance of the Imagine group were the focus of my opinion letter published in the WJ on 6/28/17. I submitted the letter with the title "Work Group Issues", but the WJ renamed it, without my permission, to "Why I Resigned from the Imagine OPRF Work Group".

Jeanine Pedersen  

Posted: January 9th, 2018 1:11 PM

With a vote difference of less than 30 votes, I think we DO need to keep talking about the pool. Some who voted against were opposed to that format but not necessarily opposed to a pool.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 8th, 2018 10:29 PM

Well Tom proponents of the giant pool such as Mr. Lazarczyk are still talking about it. And given how the subcommittee dealing with the pool is stacked with D200 employees and known pool supporters - and contrary to Mr. Lazarczyk's absolutely false allegation that we (members of D200 Pragmatic Pool Solutions) did not want to participate in IMAGINE - they might get their giant expensive pool after all. We'll see what IMAGINE comes up with. And then we'll see what the community decides. I'll leave it at that.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: January 8th, 2018 9:56 PM

Jacek, the voters already shaped the solution. 17,400 people voted that they did not want to spend millions on a new pool. That did not mean lets keep talking about a pool.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 8th, 2018 4:32 PM

Total BS Jacek. Many of us wanted to join. And I'm talking about the collegial non confrontational "works with anyone" types like my wife. They were all summarily rejected. So please don't perpetuate this total falsehood. You obviously do not know what you're talking about.

James Hall  

Posted: January 8th, 2018 3:43 PM

"This feels differrent" Says the Oak Park taxpayers as they get hammered by the massive engorged tax bill.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: January 8th, 2018 3:34 PM

The Unicom contract , linked on the OPRF website, cut off in my post below. It makes for a good read. https://intranet.oprfhs.org/board-of-education/board_meetings/Regular_Meetings/Packets/2016-17%20Regular%20Packet/20170525%20Regular%20Packet/Action/20170525%20IMAGINE%20OPRFHS%20Contract.pdf

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: January 8th, 2018 3:29 PM

Jacek, That's incorrect. Not everyone who wanted to serve on the Imagine OPRF Work Group was chosen to participate in the effort. Twenty-five members of the community were to have been selected for the work group, but that number was increased to 32 due to the high degree of interest from the community. Nearly 90 people submitted applications. I know this for a fact because I served on the launch team that selected the members of the work group. Midway through the process without any vetting or discussion, the superintendent appointed ten employees to serve as voting members on the community engagement committee. There is no reason for any employee to serve as a voting member on Imagine. Employees should provide input only. The superintendent later appointed another employee, upping the total number to eleven. While not everyone can serve on the Imagine group, everyone is able to post comments and share information on this website. It's a good thing especially because the Imagine "community conversations" do not allow a free exchange of ideas. Just like the 2016 pool community meetings, no public Q&A sessions or open forums are permitted. It's stated clearly on p.16 in Unicom's contract, the firm hired by District 200 to lead the community engagment for the Imagine group. https://intranet.oprfhs.org/board-of-education/board_meetings/Regular_Meetings/Packets/2016-17%20Regular%20Packet/20170525%20Regular%20Packet/Action/20170525%20IMAGINE%20OPRFHS%20Contract.pdf

Jacek Lazarczyk  

Posted: January 8th, 2018 12:52 PM

Why is it that the smart WJ commenters, with their vast multi-disciplinary knowledge and knack for eloquent, astute comments do not join the actual effort to shape the solution? There 43 volunteers at IMAGINE, I am sure they would be happy to take few more.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 7th, 2018 9:26 PM

Monica: Given what is transpiring with our out of control taxes here in Oak Park, I would hope that the recommendation from IMAGINE regarding the pool is a prudent one. If not, it will be soundly rejected.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: January 7th, 2018 9:07 PM

Dean, it will be interesting to hear the recommendations of the Imagine group, including those regarding the field house. The 2016 Long Term Facility Plan concluded that the high school and its field house were, in fact, structurally sound and there were few needs at the school. With anything, it's important to consider the source. A FOIA request has revealed that the Imagine subgroup that will make the pool recommendation is comprised overwhelmingly of Big Pool supporters and school employees. That should concern everyone. Another concern is the fact that this group is not tasked with conducting a review of best practices for high school p.e. swimming programs, and no known review is underway. Swimming is not a state graduation requirement. Yet, OPRF continues to require that all students complete 18 weeks of swimming. This 90-year old mandatory swimming requirement is not an example of best practices in 2018. If the school board fails to require that the Imagine group base its pool recommendation on best practices, taxpayers will again be asked to overspend on pool water.

Dean Rogers from Oak Park  

Posted: January 7th, 2018 4:55 PM

I would hope the aging and dilapidated fieldhouse is part of the review.First,the locker rooms get much less use,and many could be eliminated.Students-incredibly,disgustingly-don't even shower after PE;whether outside in 80 or indoor basketball.Returning to a policy of all athletes being exempt from PE,would further reduce the need for locker facilities.The rule made no sense since it was changed.If anyone needs an extra study hall,it is freshmen transitioning from middle school.Any participant in a sport is getting 21/2-3 hours of exercise per day;well above the state standard.As one soccer coach remarked,"it's really the PE teacher retention rule." Also,anyone in a sport should be assigned to the final period,so teams can start and end practices earlier,and have more time to travel to away games. Secondly,when I hear Imagine members talk about overcrowding I have to laugh.The school functioned fine when enrollment was over 4500.Even the most optimistic of questionable projections comes no where near this level of enrollment.Working within the current footprint,with some changes to locate divisions near each other,or labs closer to or part of the classroom would seem doable with enrollment down 20%+ from previous yeas.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: January 6th, 2018 10:05 PM

17,400 people voted against increasing taxes to pay for a pool. A vote they won. That community engagement is being ignored by school officials.

Mike Poirier  

Posted: December 6th, 2017 12:48 PM

Thank you for a nice update on the work of the Imagine Team. One correction to note, however. Your sub-head is incorrect -- it should have said "Officials, members laud "needs-driven" approach. You quote Mr. Cofsky correctly in body of the article.

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