At an Aug. 1 special meeting, the District 200 school board voted unanimously on a long-term facilities and pool construction plan for Oak Park and River Forest High School.
Plan B would construct a new 40-meter swimming pool and new parking garage on the site of the existing garage. It would also include a range of facilities improvements to accommodate the school's growing enrollment. The total cost of the plan is estimated at $54 million.
At the Aug. 1 meeting, board members approved the plan, which was presented to community members in July along with two others, but noted that it may likely be replaced at a meeting on Aug. 16 by a slightly altered version that is less exhaustive and several million dollars cheaper.
Board members noted that they are prepared to scale back the cost and scope of the plan in anticipation of what a recent phone survey of registered voters in the district shows will likely be an uphill battle to persuade voters to sign off on a referendum bond — which would cover just over half of the plan's cost — on the Nov. 8 ballot.
None of the three options up for consideration garnered majority support from the residents polled in the phone survey. After the board decided on Plan B — as opposed to the cheapest plan, an estimated $40 million proposal referred to as Plan A — some residents vowed to put up put up vigorous opposition to the plan over the next several months as the district tries to drum up support for it.
Monica Sheehan, who led a successful petition drive last December that forced the board to reconsider its previously approved proposal to sell $17.5 million in non-referendum bonds to fund a new aquatics center that would include demolishing the existing parking garage, told board members at Monday's meeting that if they didn't vote on Plan A, a group called OPRF Pragmatic Pool Solutions, the organization she formed last year, would "publicly oppose [the board's] future efforts."
Before Monday's four-hour meeting adjourned, a group called the Vote Yes D200 Referendum Committee, was already working on a statement in support of the board's plan. The committee includes Wayne Franklin and Matt Kosterman, who both filed a joint objection to the more than 4,300 petition signatures Sheehan's group gathered. The objection was tossed out during a Cook County electoral hearing.
Plan B calls for constructing a 40-meter by 25-yard competition pool with a diving well on the existing garage site, eliminating the crumbling east and west pools, and repurposing the natatorium space that houses them. The plan would demolish the current garage and replace it with a brand new, 4-story, 331-space parking facility.
The plan also entailed much-needed renovations to accommodate the high school's growing enrollment levels. It calls for increasing classroom space by 10,700 square feet at the high school to accommodate growing participation in the school's performing arts department, renovating the boys' gym locker rooms to address health and safety concerns, and renovating underutilized third-floor computer lab and classroom space into technology-advanced classrooms shared by multiple teachers and classes.
The cost to build and renovate the pool and garage was estimated at $43.5 million while the performing arts, locker room and third-floor classroom renovations would cost an additional $5.8 million, $2.8 million and $1.6 million, respectively. The total cost of Option B was estimated at $54 million, $35 million of which would be funded by referendum bonds.
The typical home in Oak Park and River Forest would see an increase of $126 and $190 a year with the option, respectively.
The board anticipates approving a final, slightly altered version of Plan B that would call for no more than $45 million in long-term facilities improvements and pool construction, no more than $25 million of which would be funded by referendum bonds. The cheaper plan would likely mean less of a tax hike for average homeowners, but the specific amount of the reduction won't be determined until the board votes on the type of bond it decides to put up for a vote in November.
Board member Fred Arkin cited a July 28 memo by Todd Altenberg, D200's chief business officer, when arguing for at least $7.3 million in cost savings that could come from reducing the scale of facilities renovations and pool construction plans. The bulk of the proposed cost reductions were connected to building a 3-story garage with fewer spaces, which would save around $3.4 million, and eliminating renovations to the black box theater and choir space, which would save around $3.1 million.
D200 board President Jeff Weissglass said the board would try identifying more cost savings in the weeks to come. The board directed Legat Architects to scrutinize the district's proposed cost reductions and bring back a revised plan that includes the cost savings on Aug. 16, when the board is scheduled to take a final vote on the referendum question.
The board's Aug. 1 decision comes days after the polling firm Fako Research and Strategies presented a report summarizing the findings of a phone survey of registered voters. The board commissioned the survey to gauge residents' sentiment on a pending referendum.
The survey found that none of the three long-term facilities options up for consideration earned majority approval from respondents. Most were either undecided on, or totally opposed to, each plan and considered any project exceeding a $75 average property tax increase as unreasonable.
Plan A, a $39.9 million plan, the least expensive of the three, called for replacing the east pool with a 25-yard competition pool and a diving well, and the west pool with a separate warm-up pool. It would keep the current garage. Forty-seven percent of Oak Park and River Forest respondents were opposed to, and 8 percent were undecided on, the plan. Forty-six percent of respondents were in favor of it.
Fifty-six percent of respondents registered opposition to the board's chosen Plan B. Seven percent of respondents were undecided and 37 percent were in favor of the plan.
Plan C, an estimated $64 million proposal which included building a 40-meter underground competition pool below the baseball field, eliminating the two old pools, repurposing both natatorium spaces and keeping the garage, was the least popular among respondents, with nearly 70 percent registering opposition.
All three pool construction options entailed performing arts, boys' gym locker room and third-floor classroom renovations, with the district allocating up to $20 million, on top of the pool construction costs, for these other capital improvements.
At the Aug. 1 meeting, most board members said Plan A only presented marginal improvements to the state of the high school's present aquatics facilities. While some board members lauded Option C as the more creative and visionary of the three plans, most concluded that its potential risks and complications weren't sufficiently vetted and that the cost was too high.
"(Plan) C is not a fiscally responsible option for us at this point," said board member Jennifer Cassell, who added that, "It's too risky to be going underground."
Most board members argued that Plan B presented a balance between their duties to be fiscally responsible and to maintain OPRF's tradition of daring, particularly when it comes to designing facilities.
Board members Jackie Moore and Steve Gevinson both recalled reading old newspapers and history books on OPRF that detailed its motto, which is "Those things that are best," Gevinson said.
Moore said she read a 1928 issue of the Oak Leaves, which noted that Oak Park was the first community in the country to build a field house that made space for girls to take physical education.
"We were the first," she said, before noting that Plan A would simply "maintain the status quo."
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to correct for numerous inaccuracies with respect to several long-term facilities plans. Wendnesday Journal regrets the errors.
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