For Imagine volunteers, OPRF campus shocks and awes

Group is studying changes to the school's century-old campus

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

When Tom Powers returned to Oak Park and River Forest High School as a volunteer with District 200's Imagine OPRF work group — formed in the spring to evaluate the district's facilities needs and to recommend improvements to the school board next year — he hadn't anticipated finding his old biology classroom in roughly the same condition it was in when he graduated in 1995. 

"It had the exact same furniture and layout," Powers said. "It had the same desks. I was like, 'Wow, these are still here.'" 

Powers, like many of the roughly four dozen other colleagues who have joined Imagine, are becoming intimate with OPRF's more than 100-year-old campus in order to figure out ways to bring the 20th-century structure into the 21st. 

Most members of the work group who were interviewed said they've been both alarmed by the building's condition and impressed by how well it's been maintained despite its age.

"The room right next door to my old classroom had been updated, so things weren't old across the board," Powers, a civil engineer by trade, said during a recent phone interview. 

He is co-chair of what's called the Physical Condition Sub-Work Group — one of four sub-work groups that make up Imagine. He said his group is responsible for evaluating the structure of the campus and things like parking, information technology, and security, and analyzing from an engineering standpoint the feasibility of the recommendations made by the other three groups. 

So far, Powers said, despite the campus' age, its underlying structure is pretty much intact and well maintained. 

"They have an automatic control system, the equipment is maintained on a regular schedule, they have a new chiller," he noted. 

Renee Bell, a mother of two OPRF students and co-chair of the sub-work group that is looking into how the campus accommodates athletics and other extracurricular activities, said her group has so far found that scheduling issues and overcrowding are concerns common across the whole Imagine work group. Like Powers, she had her own moment when touring the campus.

"I have to say, looking through the school, it's a very beautiful facility, and there's a lot of history, but I was appalled at the state of some of the spaces," said Bell, who runs training and development for an executive search firm. "I had no idea that this is what my kids lived through every day." 

Audrey Lee, chair of the performing and fine arts sub-work group, who has a son who plays drums at OPRF, said musicians "pretty much play in the hallways during class time" because the band room is so overcrowded. 

"Those teachers are making do and making a lot of stuff work in ways that are amazing," Lee, an HR professional, said. 

The 42-member Imagine work group includes 31 community members (out of the 90 applicants who applied), along with about a dozen high school faculty members, staff and teachers embedded in work groups to provide expertise. 

The community members said they're just getting beyond the evaluation phase, which involves painstakingly mapping out every sports and extracurricular space on campus. They'll make final recommendations to the school board next summer. 

The Imagine group is seeking public feedback at a community meeting on Nov. 15 at OPRF, 201 N. Scoville Ave., from 7 to 9 p.m. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com  

Reader Comments

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Michael Nevins  

Posted: November 14th, 2017 5:06 PM

When I (OPRF class of 77) attended various conferences for my kids (OPRF class of 09 and 12), I also noticed that much hadn't changed. Does this matter? Because I can tell you what my kids are doing today: one graduated from ISU as a HS Physics Teacher (and now flies Cobra helicopters - which also requires advanced technical skills) and the other graduated with an Ind Eng degree from NU (uses her tech skills in consulting). Many of their peers have done the same or better and so I'm quite skeptical that the community needs to spend millions more on this "problem." Do our Chicagoland peers have superior facilities and thus obtain superior results for their children? Oftentimes, decisions in OP are made in a bubble and shouldn't we first investigate what is going on elsewhere before we commit to another referendum and have our taxes raised? It doesn't appear as if the status quo facility is a deterrent to people - unlike the high taxes.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: November 13th, 2017 6:58 PM

I agree Monica. Given the major core deficiencies of the high school, the religious like fervor and focus on swimming and its associated out sized expenses is outrageous and in my view unethical. I can not answer your last question as to why the school ranks so poorly. But at the very least that ranking (or non ranking as the case may be) should be a wake up call to the Board (as well as our community): it is time to seriously refocus on the core mission of our high school. And yes it is time for D200 to adopt a rational 21st century approach to aquatics. The larger core mission of the school should not be held captive by a small group of aquatic true believers.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: November 13th, 2017 3:30 PM

Bruce, are you referencing the standard-size, high school competition pool in the East Pool/South Gym site identified first in the 2003 Wight Pool Study and identified and RECOMMENDED in 2013 by the year-long Stantec engineering report? I imagine it's time for OPRF to update its antiquated 89-year old swimming requirement and adopt a rational, 21st century approach to swimming. It's a self-imposed school requirement, not a state requirement, and reportedly, more than half of OPRF's students already know how to swim. The education bill signed into law in August REDUCES the current daily physical education requirement to three days a week. The law also expands the gym exemption for athletes to include freshmen and sophomores. Previously, only juniors and seniors on varsity sports teams could exempt out of gym when in season. The need for p. e. class spaces is declining. OPRF's real need is to improve its academic outcomes. It is UNRANKED in the current U.S. News & World Report ranking on high schools in Illinois. The question is why? Did OPRF fail to submit the required information or are its test scores so low that it didn't merit a ranking?

Bruce Kline  

Posted: November 13th, 2017 2:29 PM

Hey Monica, here's some ideas. Imagine a brand new 25 yard 8 lane competition pool within the foot print of the school!! Imagine a rational swim policy where students who know how to swim are not forced to take swimming. Imagine a rational swim policy that permits students who do not know how to swim to enroll in an off campus Red Cross certified water and safety program - particularly during the summer. Imagine that none of the above would increase our property taxes!! Imagine that!!

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: November 13th, 2017 1:58 PM

Amy, OPRF's marketing of last year's pool referendum was shameful and lacked integrity. The school falsely promoted it as an academic referendum when, in fact, only $1.6 million was earmarked to renovate six classrooms, and none of those were science labs. A staggering 84% of the $44.5 million would have been spent on an unnecessary, oversized 40-meter pool (70% more pool water than a standard-size, high school competition pool) and garage expenses, the wasteful demolition of the structurally-sound, 13-year old garage and the building of a smaller garage that wouldn't meet current needs. According to a village official, all of the deferred maintenance of the community/high school garage will be completed by the end of the month. It will be time for the school board to uphold its long-neglected responsibilities under the 2003 Intergovernmental Agreement. OPRF is responsible for the routine daily maintenance of the garage and its landscaping, including the many planter boxes that line the garage.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 10th, 2017 3:38 PM

Imagine your property tax bill being 50 percent higher than it is right now, in just a few short years. And then Imagine how you are not able to itemize it on your income taxes. That is alarming, not the terror of students using a few chairs from way back in the 1990's.

Barbara Purington  

Posted: November 10th, 2017 1:25 PM

It occured to me Oak Park is already changing into Western Springs, Glen Ellyn, maybe Hinsdale. The number of homes on surrounding blocks that have been sold, gutted, renovated, and resold for $475k and up continues to grow. While a positive trend for many reasons, it will put Oak Park beyond the reach of many home buyers.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: November 10th, 2017 10:56 AM

Good call Amy. Let's pony up $50 MILLION to get a pool and a new music facilities. And while we're at it, lets tear down the 15 year old parking structure. I would love for the the high school to have 21st century facilities, but it needs to be done economically. Otherwise, taxes will be so high in Oak Park we will just turn into another Wheaton or Hinsdale.

Amy Morton from Oak Park  

Posted: November 10th, 2017 6:34 AM

Perhaps they will recommend that the school build an addition that has a pool and space for music groups and classes and some additional instructional areas for the wave of students who are expected in the near future. Oh, wait. The board already recommended that. Those people who voted against the pool referendum should be ashamed for allowing these conditions at OPRFHS to continue.

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