Park district to demolish Rehm Park diving tower

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

For over 50 years, the diving tower has been a fixture at Rehm Pool, 515 Garfield St. But time and use have taken a toll.  As the summer season approaches, the Park District of Oak Park's board has agreed to demolish the 10-meter tower.

While the final vote will take place during a May 2 meeting, during an April 18 meeting, the board unanimously agreed to give staff the go-ahead to begin demolition planning, so that the tower can be removed as quickly as possible once a contractor is approved. Jan Arnold, park district executive director, said during a recent inspection it was discovered that the tower stairs were rusting from within. With the tower nearing the end of its useful life, the board agreed that demolishing it would be prudent. But they left the door open for building another "diving structure" further down the line.

Arnold said the tower was built in 1966. As decades wore on, the tower has experienced some inevitable wear and tear, but it didn't become a major concern until this decade. In 2015, Arnold said the board considered taking down the diving tower, but decided it still had useful life left.

But as the park district prepared for the 2019 pool season, staff uncovered a pressing problem -- the tower stairs are "rusting from inside out."

Arnold said even before the problem was discovered, safety concerns meant that only the tower's five-meter platform could be used. She also noted that, when the tower is used, all the other activities in the diving pool have to be stopped. 

Arnold said that repairing the stairs would cost approximately $40,000, and the ongoing maintenance needs would add to the cost. By contrast, the demolition will cost $38,500.

While Commissioner Paul Aeschleman suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that the park district do a last dive celebration before taking it down, Arnold emphasized that having the tower up once the pool is open simply wasn't an option – the safety risks were too great. 

On a more serious note, Aeschleman suggested that the park district evaluate some alternatives as part of the regular capital projects planning process – something that the remaining commissioners said they would support. 

In the end, he and other commissioners agreed that, while the diving tower served the community well over the decades, demolition would be prudent.

Given the urgency of the issue, the park district already went out to bid on demolition, and it's working with the village to get the demolition permit as soon as possible.  The board will formally approve the bids during its May 2 meeting, and the demolition is expected to happen the following day. 

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William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: April 25th, 2019 4:13 PM

Ohhhh-kay.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: April 25th, 2019 2:51 PM

Yes, William, it will suffice, However the signs are plain. Looking along the lines of the Magickist red lips , Hudson 3 2700, at Cicero and the Ike and the building northside of the Ike about Racine that was painted like another building. Cant recall the hamburger chain at Belleforte and North, half drunk half tired you talked into the clowns face in the drive thru. Distinctive. Or the original Choo Choo Hamburger in Des Plaines were you sat at the counter and your burger arrived on a Lionel train flat car. Distinctive. Or Phils Honey ill Beach in Wacounda which only lives on in Blues Brothers movie.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: April 25th, 2019 2:01 PM

I'm thinking the IDOT signs at the Austin and Harlem exits should suffice, Brian. Since you can't exit anywhere in-between those two streets.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: April 25th, 2019 9:16 AM

For those of use who jumped or dove from the top, we got a reverse view that the motorists have while driving on the Ike. What landmark will the motorists use in their travels to and from Chicago? Maybe the Park District should erect a flag pole and on top of the pole place Bud Moores Santa Claus from the gravel yard. Phils Honey Hill Beach on Bangs Lake in Wacounda suffered the same insurance problem and was forced to close.

Michael Grandy from Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 11:07 PM

You climb the stairs until it seems that the clouds are almost within reach. Finally, you reach the top of the 10 meter platform. A bit winded from the climb, your heart is pounding in your chest?"is it the exertion of the climb, excitement, or fear? You walk to the edge of the concrete platform. It is warm on your bare feet, wet, and a bit slippery. You carefully approach the edge and peek over. Everyone down below seems so tiny. It is a long way down! Your stomach is in knots, your throat is dry. Yep, no doubt: it's fear. Everyone is watching now, so there is no backing out! The guard signals you to "go". You hesitate, but your friends call out to you tYou take a deep breath and step off. Time slows down to a crawl. The wind whistles in your ears as you speed toward the water, now your heart is REALLY pounding!! It seems to take forever to drop the 39.6 feet to the pool surface. Feet first, you finally reach the water. Your hit so hard it stings the bottom of your feet! You keep going down, down you can feel the pressure in your ears. It's amazing how chilly the water is in the bottom of the diving well! When you look up and see the surface it lookis like a rippled mirror. You kick and paddle your arms furiously. It seems to take forever to reach the surface, and when you do, you are greeted with the cheers and applause of your friends. You raise your fist in triumph and take a huge gulp of air. You exult in the moment and would like it to last, but now the guard is yelling at you to get clear for the next diver. When you exit the pool, you are not the same as when you started your climb up the tower stairs. You later come to recognize that many of life's challenges frequently resemble that first dive off the Rehm tower. Curiosity, excitement, fear, a big un-retreatable step, a rush of adrenaline, then accomplishment, relief, pride. You will always remember this da

Steve Shorney from RIVER FOREST  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 9:18 PM

Late night pool hopping just won't be the same!

Sam Ritchie from Los Angeles  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 7:31 PM

Only ever made it to the second platform before we moved north and started going to Ridgeland. Guess that third platform is a goal gone forever! LOL.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 6:33 PM

FWIW, Nick "pickle" Thomas is now leisurely living in Florida. He last came north a couple of years ago and "He-Who-Has-No-Fear" (of either the third platform/diving well or the Park District) is now peacefully living his life. Lastly, he NEVER liked his other name and so even today I call him Mr. Thomas!

Helen Vogel  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 4:39 PM

Couldn't have said it better myself Marty! I grew up at Rehm Pool. Left my house in the morning, went home for dinner, went back for night swim. Every summer - swimming lessons, diving lessons - jr. life guard. I too remember them all fondly. There is no way that the PDOP just let the tower rust away so that they had an excuse to take it down. The platforms are obsolete now and should be replaced with something that more of the general population will use. It's time to build new memories. Helen (Poppy) Vogel

Marty Bracco  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 4:21 PM

@drewrein, please read Mr. Scotty's comment below. Yes, most of us who grew up here in the 60's and 70's used (or at least tried to use in my case) the platform and boards. The diving well and platform, however, were built for an entirely different purpose in the mid-1960's. Rehm was built as an Olympic size, competition based pool that could be used for general recreation. At that time, no one built pools any other way. Oak Park hosted Olympic Trials and Pan Am Games at Rehm at that time. Fast forward to today and for many reasons (of course liability is one, but only one) Rehm ceased to be used as a competition based pool. The public demanded more recreational based pools.The changes to the east end over the years clearly show that. Meanwhile decades of exposure to the elements have caused the platform to deteriorate. This isn't simply a matter of cost to fix vs cost to demolish. It's an opportunity cost. Rehm isn't used for competitive diving, and likely won't ever be. So, remove the tower. Now, when the pool complex is master planned, we can also look at reworking the entire diving area to a more up to date use. It's 16 feet deep, by the way. The potential for more serious harm is a consideration, regardless of how well staff is trained in life saving ( and they are trained well. They're outstanding. So, we all have good memories of our leaps from great heights, but reality dictates a new way for our kids/grandkids to achieve similar memories and important life skills.

Christopher Bell  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 3:00 PM

I grew up a few blocks from from Rehm and the diving board was a right of passage. You knew you were ready for anything if you jumped off the highest platform. Many of us did not know how to dive and had a very hard landing which hurt like hell.

Drew Rein  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 2:44 PM

Aechelman is the only one who finds himself amusing. I'm sure if it were a bike path he'd find nothing funny about the situation. Oak Park has a history of being poor stewards to the property that they want to get rid of and it seems to be working for them. Just have whatever it is go past the point of repair and throw proverbial hands in the air as if it were none of their doing.

Dave Slade from Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 10:46 AM

Welcome to government. Put off repair and maintenance for years and either remove it or spend exorbitant amounts of money to fix it. This is not exorbitant.As a taxpayer, fix it and leave it up.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 8:30 AM

This makes no sense to me assuming the article is correct. They are going to spend $1500 less to demo it than to just rebuild it??? I wonder if the demo cost would be needed no matter what so that rebuilding it actually costs the combined amount. If the difference is really $1500 that's literally like 15 pool passes. I hope this isn't correct.

Debey Do Chrastka from PS  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 7:53 AM

Oh how disappointing. I so remember jumping off then diving off every level as a kid, then my son did as well. Was hoping someday my grandkids would too! Oak Park fix what needs to be repaired, you have the funds! Debra Chrastka

Wayde Anthony Smith  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 1:36 AM

That stinks. This was a right of passage for me as an Oak Park kid. Jumping off the third platform was a huge confidence builder for kids. I hope they rebuild it, but there are too many people sue happy nowadays.....

Joel Lessing from Forest Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2019 10:59 PM

An entirely non-credible explanation for the obvious: fear of accident liability in this litigious era. I mean, seriously? You are demolishing an iconic structure to save $1500? That's so silly that it's an insult to the intelligence of a 12 year-old.

Tom Scotty  

Posted: April 23rd, 2019 9:29 PM

As 1 of a family of 10 aquatic athletes who's summer home was Rehm Pool, this is the sad end of an era of great fun and coming of age in South Oak Park. Truth be told, OP stopped using the tower appropriately decades ago with their uninformed "diving" policies created by insurance companies and lame village budgeting. When I brought my kids there as tikes, I got whistled and scolded for diving in the diving well where I learned to do it. Boo hoo! But times change and I've got lots of great memories up on top of that thing getting ready to flip and twist as an OPRF and U of I diver, as well as sitting on the gutter during rest period as a 7 year old getting splashed by the monster can-openers! Long live Nick Pickle!

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