Imagine OPRF reveals two facilities concepts

During June 27 meeting, board members chimed in on idea of razing south campus

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

Imagine OPRF, the working group formed last spring to create a long-term facilities plan for Oak Park and River Forest High School, has narrowed its focus to two preliminary design concepts.

Around a dozen members of the 40-member Imagine group were on hand during a special meeting on June 27 to present the concepts to, and field questions from, District 200 school board members — many of whom honed in on the idea, common to both concepts, of rebuilding OPRF's south end to accommodate new physical education and athletics facilities.

 The two concepts, called Burnt Orange and Navy Blue, are very similar. Both concepts share a series of major components that are based on "specific needs and opportunities" that were identified during the process of gathering research and public input, Imagine members explained in a board document.

Those needs and opportunities fell into six general categories, which included:

  • The need to reorganize, reconfigure and renovate student learning spaces to meet a changing educational landscape
  • The need to make the space at OPRF more efficient
  • The opportunity to foster more community connections and to make the campus more welcoming with facilities improvements
  • The opportunity to improve equity through facilities improvements; among others.
  • The need to foster equity "along several dimensions" through facilities changes.
  • The need to upgrade the condition of the facilities in certain parts of campus that negatively impact students and staff.

"Both concepts show a rebuilt south end that does not touch the current parking garage," said Lynn Kamenitsa, an Imagine co-chair.

In the Navy Blue concept, the swimming pool and multipurpose, multi-court gymnasium would be located on a lower level, with a first-floor entrance that provides direct access to spectator seating. In the Burnt Orange concept, the pool and gymnasium are both located on the first-floor.

The concepts would both feature 25-yard by 40-yard pools with a 6-foot bulkhead, which can be utilized to divide the pool space into different areas for multiple uses. The new 2-story fieldhouse common to both concepts would cover the entire width of the building and feature five courts, a climbing wall and a 200-meter track, among other features.

Kamenitsa said that the rebuilt south end ensures more efficient use of the space, reduces overcrowding and creates flexibility for the school's future needs while accommodating its current needs.

"All of that is very difficult to accomplish with the existing structures, because some of them were built [nearly a century ago]," she said at the June 27 meeting. "What you have is a bunch of small, structurally interdependent units, so it's really hard to open them up to create the large, flexible spaces that today's construction techniques will allow."

The idea of completely rebuilding the south campus, however, gave some board members pause.

"It's daunting to think about removing the field house and rebuilding," said board member Fred Arkin. "That's a big concept to overcome."

Board member Sara Spivy said that she wanted more detailed information from Imagine members about why they opted for demolition. Members Craig Iseli and Matt Baron both emphasized the need for calculating costs and financial tradeoffs while thinking about ideas like demolition and rebuilding roughly a third of the campus.

"We don't have unlimited resources to do everything we want," Iseli said.

Baron wanted to know how the rebuilding of the south campus would be phased in over time in order to minimize disruption.

Terry Fielden, with International Contractors Inc., and an advisor to the Imagine group, said that "there's going to be quite a bit of planning involved before you start this out … It's a very, very complex thing."

Imagine members said that the two concepts would both create common spaces throughout campus for students to study, socialize and collaborate — an idea that generated the most enthusiasm among board members.

The primary commons space would be accessible through the main entrance on Scoville Avenue, between the auditorium and the Little Theater.

"We think some of the most important investments in the new facilities we're proposing will be those that promote a sense of welcoming and ownership because those investments, while benefitting all students, will disproportionately benefit groups of marginalized and underserved students," said Imagine co-chair Mike Poirier, during the special meeting. "This is one of the principal objectives behind the consolidation of common functions at the center core of the building."

Board member Jennifer Cassell said that she was "most excited about the student common space," adding that "over the last few years you've heard a real desire from students for that."

Both concepts call for relocating the library and tutoring center toward the center of the building, off of the commons, so that students can access the space more easily than before, during and after school.

The spaces would be redesigned "to accommodate group and collaborative work as well as silent individual work," the memo states, and moving them near the commons would make the spaces more accessible for students during lunch periods and "enable them to remain open longer without the additional security personnel that would be required in their current locations."

In the Navy Blue concept, the library and tutoring center would be located on the second floor, just above the first-floor kitchen/cafeteria space. In the Burnt Orange concept, they'd be located just above the Little Theater.

Both concepts would entail the cafeteria and food service facilities getting significant renovation and equipment upgrades.

"In listening sessions and survey responses, students indicated that the cafeterias were a particular source of stress, anxiety, and discomfort, and that they wanted more options like the one provided by the balcony in the current Student Center," the memo states.

Both concepts would also locate spaces that are similar in function near each other. Spaces for the daycare and academic child development lab, building and district administrative offices and for Special Education will be consolidated and located near the first-floor entryway.

Both concepts feature plans to reorganize, renovate and re-allocate classroom space throughout the north end of OPRF, with similar subjects, such as math and science, clustered in the same area. Both concepts also feature classroom spaces with "vastly improved" daylighting.

One of the biggest differences between the Navy Blue and Burnt Orange concepts is the location of the performing arts spaces. In the Navy Blue concept, performing arts spaces are located right off of the commons, adjacent to the auditorium. In the Burnt Orange concept, they're located at the west end of the south campus, which is currently dedicated to physical education and athletics spaces.

Both concepts, however, call for the performing arts facilities to be updated and expanded.

Poirier said that there will be another meeting in mid-August, where Imagine members will present a single concept to board members and start some preliminary discussions about how much the long-term facilities plan will cost. He said that the public will have another opportunity to provide feedback at another community engagement meeting planned for some time in the fall.

"When we come back in August with a draft of a full facilities master plan it will be a combination of the best elements from Orange and Blue," said Kamenitsa.


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Reader Comments

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Bruce Kline  

Posted: June 29th, 2018 7:18 PM

Jason, my experience here in Oak Park, suggests you are incorrect. That being said, I hope you are proven correct and I am proven absolutely wrong. This is one time I would love to be 100% wrong, wrong, and more wrong. We will see soon enough.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: June 29th, 2018 6:19 PM

@Bruce, the primary reason people aren't aware yet is because there's not much to be aware of at this point. I don't see a project like this sliding by. I am not worried about awareness. If we get to the point this will be really voted on, and I am not sure it will ever get there, then everyone will be aware. The whole village will be focused on it.

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: June 29th, 2018 4:43 PM

Bruce K: As we've discussed privately, if the amount is large enough, they can't even put it on the ballot. Let's say they take an enormous amount from their cash reserves (which will accelerate when they have to go for an operating tax referendum, which they fear like the plague, and people will be loath to give passage in the aftermath of this). Let's say they try to sell Non-Referendum Bonds (Monica Sheehan and you and your wife knew how to stop that, when you weren't even organized at the start, but now you are; it's strictly limited in what that amount is; it counts against their debt limit in any case). It's that debt limit plus the cash draw-down that could be exceeded by the sheer scope of this, and they are not allowed to go beyond that. This is a Stalingrad of their own making, should they choose to enter that place of no return. Start thinking like Marshal Zhukov, and let the other side do your work for you, and then deliver "the Backhand Blow". The Bruce Lee Proposal, which was less than tearing down the Fieldhouse/Gyms, was costed at $144 million, and adding the estimated $50 million to rearrange instructional space in the main part of the building, came close to $200 million, in 2014 dollars. The new debt limit is under $155 million (after the recent reassessment). This situation is about to collide with reality -- even the voters cannot override the debt limit, which is meant to protect us from ourselves and bad elected officials. In a policy before the Board last night (not that they read all those things), it was pointed out that the State starts looking over your shoulder once you reach 75% of that limit. I believe sanity will prevail, because the Board will finally see that the numbers don't add up.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: June 29th, 2018 3:30 PM

Jason: The key statement you made is "... they either aren't aware at all ..." That is a strategic key used by school districts to get monstrous projects such as this, approved by the public via referendum. Since, typically, the average citizen is NOT aware of these issues - even monstrosities such as this IMAGINE proposal - school districts and their true believer supporters will time a referendum (such as I suspect this will be timed) during an off year election - typically in the spring. And typically since the "true believers" come out in force, and the "unawares" stay home, monstrosities such as this IMAGINE proposal will pass muster. That should be a warning to every overly stressed out taxpayer in D200. It really does not matter if in fact most of the citizens (you know) are against this. If they are "unaware", as you say (and judging by the IMAGINE led community discussion turnouts in May, most are either unaware or in fact do not care), this monster will come to life, right here in Oak Park. You can bet on it.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: June 29th, 2018 12:21 PM

Does anyone know of anybody outside this imagine group that actually supports this? When I mention this whole situation to people they either aren't aware at all or laugh at the idea of spending $100+ million on this project. I can't see them getting anywhere near the support needed to make this a reality. Once people see the real numbers there won't be many people interested in supporting this. The whole idea is really ludicrous and this is coming from someone that voted yes to the most recent referendums. I did vote no to the pool. What's really sad about all this is they are turning people against the whole swimming program with all this silly greed. Now when I hear swimming at OPRF all I can think about is this stupid pool situation.

Tom MacMillan from OPRF  

Posted: June 29th, 2018 2:33 AM

The public provided feedback when we voted NO. This is a lot of BS wrapped around a new pool, which is somehow now an agent of equity.

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: June 28th, 2018 4:22 PM

The students are concerned about "stress, anxiety, and discomfort" in the lunchrooms. Might that be from the SELF-SEGREGATION, which already occurs there? The OPRFHS lunchrooms are the most segregated institutions in Oak Park. The Board didn't do it. The Administration didn't do it. The Faculty didn't do it. Only the students could do it: Blacks, Whites, Jocks, Popular Students, Nerds, Goths, Special Ed Students, LGBTQs. Why would a Student Commons be any different after a week or two? Don't tell me about visiting a Student Commons in a demographically homogeneous suburb, which we aren't. I feel like the little boy in the Emperor's New Clothes. I cant see the finery created by the Perkins and WIll architects, and they have provided no costs, but they will gladly cash our checks. And the Imagine people can feel good about themselves. Isn't that what this is all about?

Tom Coffman  

Posted: June 28th, 2018 9:33 AM

How about the additional classroom space needed for the expected increase in the student body working its way through D97? How about fixing one existing pool and making swimming optional?

Alice Caputo  

Posted: June 28th, 2018 8:42 AM

Could someone please explain to me why "students indicated that the cafeterias were a particular source of stress, anxiety, and discomfort"? Coincidentally I feel the same way about high taxes and disingenuous packaging of an overpriced pool that tax payers clearly do not support.

Neal Buer  

Posted: June 28th, 2018 7:23 AM

To paraphrase Shakespeare ( with my apologies), "A pool by any other name, is still a pool." Any hint of a referendum will be met with organized opposition, which I will be a part of. As an aside, my neighbors across the street moved this week, due to taxes.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: June 28th, 2018 12:27 AM

Josh: If you recall, the last attempt at a giant pool, repackaged the giant pool within a performing arts initiative. Hey, excellent strategy ... it almost worked. Now the repackaging of the giant pool involves a major facility upgrade. I am sure, like last time, its still all about the giant pool. But in fact you will here very little about the pool and everything - as you pointed out - about those bullet points.

Josh Vanderberg  

Posted: June 27th, 2018 10:53 PM

Amazing how none of those bullets highlights the need for a giant, oversized pool and yet both the plans include giant oversized pools. Go back to the drawing board, come up with at least 2 plans that include a normal sized pool, or heck, no pool at all. ORPF is slipping in academic standards, slipping on equity, why are we spending money on giant swimming pools?

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