A community center fieldhouse

Opinion: Editorials

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With the master facilities plan at OPRF High School now submitted, with an ambitious initial roster of education and classroom-focused capital improvements chosen, funded and ready to be bid, it is an interesting moment for the concept of a collaboration between the Park District of Oak Park and OPRF on a community center to resurface.

And resurface it did at a recent school board meeting as Vic Guarino, a park commissioner and current candidate for the District 200 school board, raised the broad topic. 

This concept, driven by the park district in Oak Park, was shelved a year back when the River Forest Park District dropped out of discussions and OPRF delayed any further discussion as its own complicated facilities plan was already underway.

So now we have two potential taxpayer funded entities doing an early dance with the vague but much anticipated prospect of private donations playing a notable part in funding this community center.

With the wise decision by the OPRF administration and school board to indefinitely postpone necessary overhauls or rebuilding of the fieldhouse portion of the OPRF campus, here's our early thought: 

The only logical place for a community center is on the site of the fieldhouse. That building — its pools, its locker rooms, its public spaces — is obsolete. It needs a wrecking ball. Investing tens of millions into it, and solely to serve high school students, doesn't make common sense. It also doesn't make sense for the high school to spend tax dollars on an off-site community center while its fieldhouse is a wreck.

The current fieldhouse, wedged at the south end of the school building and just north of the parking garage, is taxpayer-owned so no other Oak Park property would need to come off the tax rolls for a different, less convenient site. And it is virtually contiguous to the park district's gem at Ridgeland Common.

Finally, if adequate public access can be built into such a facility — the indoor pool, track, gym — it would have the added benefit of connecting the school to the community, inviting locals without high school-age children to share in an institution we have all built and take pride in.

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Brian Slowiak  

Posted: March 19th, 2019 4:45 AM

@ KM: In my opinion, Oak Park will accept cowpeople, because the cowpeople would hired employees for the duration of the event and if only to remind us of the evil of eating meat and not treating animals as having rights.Lasso lessons should be limited to goat roping, which is akin to t-ball. I also want the pool to be covered with a retractable floor. Then we could re stage the pool scene from "Its a Wonderful Life" when everyone in their formal wear dances and dives into the pool, as the pool floor/roof opens. We could charge admission like "Tony and Tinas Wedding" to offset costs.Plus we could supply work for the theatre arts crowd.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: March 18th, 2019 11:48 PM

I LOVE your rodeo idea but Brian, do you think Oak Park is ready for COWBOYS? I mean, how can you have a rodeo without cowboys? Or would they be called COWPEOPLE (at least in Oak Park that is)? And maybe replace some of the swimming classes with classes in rope & lasso technique.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: March 18th, 2019 2:26 PM

@ Tommy Mac; Thanxs, but I didn't state when I had the conversation with my wifes side of the family. Maybe I cant talk with them because they are at an open air ballgame. The issue is still the retractable roof for the Community Fieldhouse. After all. its for the children.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: March 18th, 2019 10:50 AM

@Brian - you can tell your family in Minnesota that the Twins have been playing outdoor baseball at Target Field since it was opened eight years ago

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: March 18th, 2019 9:42 AM

My wifes side of the family live in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. They will not go to a Twins Baseball game because after a Minnesota winter, the last thing they want to do in summer is go to inside to watch a baseball game. They want to be outside. Therefore to bring this project to full potential, we, being Oak Park, must have a retractable roof on our new Community Field House. Open air winter hockey games, open air track meets, and much needed open air rodeos.All things that are best.

Les Golden  

Posted: March 18th, 2019 8:55 AM

The role of government is to create taxpayer funded facilities to put private firms out of business. We already have community centers, in the communities. Eight fieldhouses shuttered by Gary Balling so that only fee-payers could use them. In the past, two minimum-wage college students, a boy and a girl, rec majors or jocks, would supervise 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. summer-time activities at the playgrounds for the kids . . . for free. Softball games, ping-pong tournaments, badminton, capture the flag, four-square, tether ball, gardening projects, checker tournaments, arts and crafts like finger painting and weaving belts, reading, music . For free. And the parents don't have to pay for uniforms! We had community centers. IN THE COMMUNITIES. Cost to the PD to bring back the fieldhouses? Let's see, 8 fieldhouses x 2 staff x 8 hours/day x 3 months x 22 weekdays/month x $8/hour = $65,000 per year. Cost of a community center, $10 million? Cost for residents to use? Fees, fees, fees, fees, fees, and more fees in the Gary Balling can't-balance-the-budget-without-squeezing-them-for-fees tradition. Bring back summertime supervised kids play to the fieldhouses! Those are your community centers.

Leslie Sutphen  

Posted: March 17th, 2019 10:06 PM

It is difficult to figure out if this proposal makes any sense without a detailed list of requirements for both the Community Center and the High School (although we have the very idealistic Imagine Plan). This is a very costly proposal and certainly should not be recommended without a hard study of what this community actually NEEDS as opposed to what it WANTS.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: March 7th, 2019 11:56 PM

This editorial is grasping at straws, straws which will soon be banned in Oak Park.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: March 7th, 2019 11:55 PM

How could this be a community fieldhouse and pool if the fieldhouse and pool are closed to the public for 2/3 of the days when school is in session and on some weekends? Hey, my darling children lets get up at four in the morning or nine at night and go for a swim at the community field house and pool!

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: March 7th, 2019 8:52 PM

This op/ed promotes a false narrative. The fact is OPRF High School requires no "wrecking ball". D200 officials have repeatedly stated that the building is structurally sound and well maintained. Even though the D200 Board challenged a 2016 Legat facility plan that included a total demolition of the south end of the building and unanimously rejected it, the Imagine plan put forth only one extreme plan for the south end of the building: demolition. No renovation-only plan was presented. Imagine also considered no Ridgeland Commons pool collaboration. Beyond its obvious cost-savings, resulting from sharing the construction and operating costs with the park district, removing the pools from the school building would open up three floors of space for each pool for other school uses. OPRF's Adventure Ed gym class already walks to Ridgeland Commons to skate in its rink. The time is long overdue to rethink the school's mandatory swimming requirement. About 50% of OPRF students already know how to swim.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: March 6th, 2019 4:58 AM

Purdue University (My school) and Indiana University (Not my school) are traditional rivals in everything except their mutual disdain for Notre Dame. They managed to join forces to build a world class swimming facility in Indianapolis. If those two can come to terms why can't we? The park district and the schools have been known to have a Hatfield & McCoy relationship which might require a separate management and operational team. I am sure we can do without a Olympic certified warm-up tank but who knows what we can do. Our ice rink at Ridgeland Commons is a great facility that enjoys maximum usage. I bet an aquatic center could stand on it's own financially and not be a tax burden.

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