Ensure year-round swimming, skating in Oak Park and River Forest

Opinion: Columns

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Barbara Langer and Virgina Thomas

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After reading Devin Rose's Feb. 8 coverage of the latest meeting of the River Forest Park District, Wednesday Journal reader Donna Peel posted a query asking why the public can't use the pools at Oak Park and River Forest High School to swim year-round. See the article here.

Good question!

I asked Dietra Millard, president of the District 200 Board of Education why the high school allows TOPS, a private swimming group affiliated with the YMCA in Oak Park, to pay to use the high school pools on a regular basis all year but declines to extend the same privileges to the general public from both villages, whose property taxes, not TOPS, pay for the maintenance and staffing.

Millard said she doesn't know why that is and that she's not responsible for the special privileges TOPS receives at the expense and exclusion of the rest of us. But for now, the public can't swim at the high school.

Since Concordia University closed its indoor, public-access pool in August, no other pools remain here. So many working people, seniors and families in OP and RF can no longer afford to swim year round.

Although the approved renovation plan for Ridgeland Commons does not include an enclosure for the 50-meter pool, the Park District of Oak Park could easily enclose the pools at Ridgeland Common and Rehm, as well as the ice rink, for just over $2 million each.

Enclosing both pools for year-round use would ensure enough public aquatic facilities so everyone who wants to swim every day could do so inexpensively.

A park district in Kearns, Utah enclosed its 50-meter pool for about $2.5 million last spring and began using it last summer. That is 3-4 times less than the $8 million the park district said it would cost to enclose the Ridgeland Common pool. See a free, time-lapse video of the construction and subsequent use at www.vimeo.com/35319332.

Does it make sense to pay $23.5 million to renovate Ridgeland Common without including a year-round pool enclosure, when for about 1/3 of that cost, the park district could enclose both pools as well as the ice rink?

We believe the answer is "no."

In our view, the $23.5 million is a waste because it won't give the public and property taxpayers one more minute of public-access pool time than we have now.

However, if the park district modified the renovation plan to enclose both pools and the ice rink with affordable and practical structures like the one in Kearns, then the public would get all the swim time they want all year long — for a fraction of the $23.5 million for the unmodified plan.

The park district did not know about the much more affordable renovation alternative that Kearns has pioneered because it was just built last year.

But now that they do know it can satisfy all of our aquatics needs with none of the problems that it said would undermine such inexpensive structures, we believe it would be irresponsible for them to implement the renovation plan without first modifying it to incorporate these structures.

Our community can get the daily, year-round, public-access fitness services we need. Please ask the park district to modify its renovation plan to include low-cost enclosures for its pools and ice rink.

Barb Langer, Ph.D., and Virginia Thomas are members of Enclose Our Pools. Email graceflo@ameritech.net.

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Reader Comments

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holly from OAK PARK  

Posted: July 9th, 2012 6:25 PM

I would love to be able to swim year round at the high school. I grew up not to far from here and was always swimming in the high schools pool. It was and still is extremely affordable for guest and residents.

Mark Spitz from Oak Park  

Posted: February 21st, 2012 11:58 AM

I swam laps at the YMCA for years but as they devoted more and more of the pool schedule to TOPS at the expense of adult laps, swimming there for exercise was not longer a realistic proposition. When I quit the Y several years ago, they were down to 2 absurdly crowded 45 minute evening lap sessions a week. Hopefully that's changed with TOPS swimming at OPRF now. But I'd be skeptical about any proposed public swimming facility being taken over by TOPS as the YMCA was.

Julie Chyna from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 17th, 2012 12:01 PM

I agree with Loren. My children would be terribly disappointed if the outdoor pools were enclosed. A big part of their appeal is that kids can play there outside during the summer. If avid swimmers really want to swim during the winter, the YMCA is an excellent option, with lessons and many "free swim" times available. There are also plenty of fitness centers with pools, and it sounds like OPRF could be an option that just hasn't been fully explored yet. Leave the outdoor pools outdoors!

Loren Andersen from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2012 11:34 AM

Agree with Jeanette. Who wants to go to an indoor pool in the summer? I don't think you should enclose either of them. Close one and the other will be overloaded with people in the summer. I would bet only avid swimmers require a pool in the off-season months. Maybe they closed the pool on RF because there was little demand? Access to the high school pool is the best option here.

OPRF Achievement  

Posted: February 15th, 2012 5:59 PM

@ Dr. Langer Keep up the GREAT work. OP PD, OPRF and RF PD need to lock themselves in a room and work out a solution. Do not accept..."this is not my decisions you need to talk to the other group" as an answer. This is NOT that hard folks. But as usual, EGOs are at play. Keep up the pressure! Residents deserve a bit more creative thinking and solutions.

Jeannette from Oak Park  

Posted: February 15th, 2012 5:24 PM

I like the idea of Ridgeland being enclosed for the pool and rink for year-round use. But Rehm should remain open. Not being able to swim outdoors in the summer is very unappealing.

Peter Ryan from Oak Park  

Posted: February 15th, 2012 1:08 PM

Do we know how much of that cost was due to aging or outdated facilities or equipment? Possibly a modernized or updated facility would cost less to maintain? Not sure, just curious.

OPRF Dad  

Posted: February 15th, 2012 11:11 AM

The high school allows several "feeder" programs to use facilities at OPRF on a fee basis. I would love to have public, year-round swimming in town if it can be supported by user fees. I would gladly pony up to pay. But a $2.5 million price tag to enclose the pool is just the beginning. It's employees, maintenance, insurance, heat, etc. I understand, mostly from reaading about the pools that have closed, that they are expensive to operate and user fees have been insufficient to cover costs.

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