Help us imagine OPRF's future

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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Oak Park and River Forest High School is considering making the biggest changes to its campus in 50 years. How will this community's most important asset serve students and residents in the future? Become part of the discussion at Imagine OPRF's third Community Conversation on Monday, April 16, at 7 p.m. in the OPRF South Cafeteria.

Imagine OPRF is a community-led group working to identify the facilities needs of OPRF and to recommend a long-term facilities master plan to the District 200 Board of Education.

On April 16, we will be sharing our work and gathering additional input from community members. This meeting will be the first opportunity to look at conceptual options that would address the facilities needs identified in Imagine's research over the past seven months.

To see the current state of this vintage building up close, all residents of River Forest and Oak Park are invited to tour the OPRF building with Imagine volunteers on Saturday April 14 (tours at 10, 10:15, 10:30, 10:45) or immediately before the April 16 meeting (tours at 5:45, 6, 6:15). All events will be at OPRF High School, 201 N. Scoville Ave.

As the most important institution in our community, and one that impacts everyone who lives and works here, OPRF and its future matter to us all. Every voice and viewpoint is welcome and appreciated. Please come tell us what you think. 

Lynn Kamenitsa & Mike Poirier

Imagine OPRF co-chairs


Reader Comments

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Bruce Kline  

Posted: April 22nd, 2018 11:30 AM

I agree Tom. When I hear the latest artifice from D200 - it's just not about a pool - you know it is just about a pool ... and a giant one at that. It's sorta like general discussions of money, when a person might pipe up in high "holier than thou" voice and claim, "it's just not about the money." You immediately know then "it is all about the money."

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 22nd, 2018 6:37 AM

Imagine an OPRF where the people get to stay in town without their taxes going through the roof to pay for something they voted to not pay for. Where kids learn to swim over the warm summer months at the two excellent park district pools. Where the 90 kids who want to be on a swim team go to Fenwick if that is really their priority, or they try one of the many more affordable sports options being offered.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: April 21st, 2018 11:04 AM

Incorrect information is posted on the OPRF website, in the "Document Archive", under "Pool Sites Considered 2012-2015". In the "Renovate Current Pools" response, it attributes the Stantec committee with a statement, but there was no such committee. The statement should be attributed to the-then internal pool committee, comprised of school employees, who wanted an oversized pool. Stantec, the engineering firm commissioned to study the pools and usage, stated clearly and recommended that a standard-size competition pool, 8-lanes, 25-yards, would meet the school's aquatic needs and could be built in the east pool/south gym location. Stantec also stated that the school's current 11 swim lanes are a luxury for a high school. At the 9/26/13 school board meeting, the school's architect, Legat, stated that this site was "more cost effective" than the other sites under consideration. Yet, the post on the website, under "East Pool + South Gym (Weight Room) 2013", wrongly states that this site was "too costly". In the months before the 2016 pool referendum, similar incorrect posts were included on the website. It took repeated email requests over a few months before the administration addressed them.

Leslie Sutphen from Oak Park  

Posted: April 20th, 2018 9:31 PM

I think it is really important for the community to review these plans and give input even if they couldn't go to the meetings. This is an expansive and likely expensive proposal - it involves rebuilding a substantial part of the high school Please give your input on the following link (I am also including the links to the proposals). This will have a major effect on our taxes and our education. Comment link: Education wing: Central commons and performance part: Fieldhouse rebuild:

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: April 20th, 2018 12:41 PM

Nick, please share Ms. Sullivan's response about Imagine's lack of cost estimates and ask where the missing cost estimating firm, ICI, is in this process. She still hasn't corrected this false statement listed on Imagine's February Q&A page: "When built 15 years ago, the life span of the garage was planned to be 25 years." Point of fact, it was the agreement between the school and village, known as the IGA, that had a "life span" of 25 years, with renewal options of ten years each. The garage wasn't built to be a disposable asset. Now that the village has addressed its deferred maintenance, the garage has a life span today of at least 25 more years. In reading through the Q&A page, one would think that there were no questions posed about the pools and the group's research into best practices or apparently lack of it, but that's not true. They are just not included. The fact that Imagine has given the community only one pool option, and it's a huge one, is disingenuous. Where is the standard-size high school competition pool option, and where is the option to take the pools out of the school and cap the Ridgeland Commons pool, making it a joint year-round resource for all? The school-commissioned 2016 Fako survey revealed that the pools were not a priority for the public. Yet, the administration and the school board continue to allow an unnecessary, expensive, oversized pool to be a driver of the Imagine process.

Nick Polido  

Posted: April 20th, 2018 7:50 AM

Thanks Monica for pointing this out. I did enjoy the side note in the memo pointing out that Terry Fielden of ICA is also a current school board member in Naperville, President and Vice president. I think we are owed answers regarding costs that have so far not been provided by Mr. Fieldens firm. I'm personally going to email Karin Sullivan ?" Director of Communications and Community Relations (co-author of this memo) to try to get an explanation and if we can expect any input on costs at the 5/19 or 5/21 IMAGINE meetings. Just received my Huskie e-mail from Karin Sullivan applauding the great success of the 4/16 meeting.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: April 19th, 2018 6:28 PM

The Imagine group has provided no logical reason why it did not include conceptual cost estimates with its proposed plans presented to the public Monday night and posted on its website. It is a nonsensical exercise to ask the public to choose its preference of options without knowledge of their associated costs. Since 6/22/17, the firm ICI has been under contract to provide conceptual cost estimating for components of plans considered by the Imagine group. ICI's June 2017 contract also specified that it was to serve as a check and balance between Imagine's architect, Perkins + Will, and UNICOM ARC, the community engagement firm recently fired by the Imagine group. In addition to its architectural consulting duties, Perkins + Will has assumed UNICOM ARC's community engagement role. ICI's presence is publicly missing in this process. The question is "why?". ICI's contract is linked on OPRF's Imagine page and can be accessed with this link:

Jack Davidson  

Posted: April 18th, 2018 10:28 PM

This has to be the largest scale single-project failure I've witnessed in my 25 year career. No requirements, no budget, predetermined outcomes, explicit bias. To see what a successful project looks like, take this example, do the exact opposite and flip it on it's head and there you go. As others have said, a complete waste of time. I only hope the Imagine team can regroup and salvage what is salvageable before more money and time is wasted.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: April 18th, 2018 6:34 PM

Dori, The one constant in all three Imagine plans is the huge pool in the southeast corner of the building, though its actual size remains unknown as the group didn't share its dimensions or its price tag with the public in the presentations or poster boards at Monday night's meeting. This location isn't new to the discussion of siting a pool at OPRF. Three different pool plans in the southeast corner of the building were considered by the 2014 Pool Site Committee, and it rejected all three plans due to their prohibitive costs at the 12/1/14 meeting. The then-price tags ranged from $75 million to $136 million. Because the Imagine plans are more extensive, realistically, their price tags will be much higher. Copied below is a link to the 12/1/14 meeting agenda, with embedded links to the pool plans and the cost sheet, as well as a link to the meeting's minutes. Link to meeting minutes:

Dori Bernstein  

Posted: April 17th, 2018 7:52 PM

I attended the Imagine presentation and was very disappointed. Two main things that needed to be addressed were completely omitted. 1) The overall goals need to be articulated and 2) the budget options need to be discussed. What can we do with $50 million and what are the most critical needs? What can we do with $75 million? What do we need and how much can we afford? These starting point questions have not been answered. The conceptional plans did not have dimensions or costs. I can't image making a major purchase without first looking at the cost. I am sure the architects have the dimensions and costs. The plans were computer generated which indicates dimensions were used as input data. Modern software have a cost function. Conceptual plans have an economic component and we are being kept in the dark. Were we supposed to be so in awe of all the shiny and new features that we won't be rational? We are not in a "cost is no object" environment. The kids have real needs so we should start acting like grown-ups and solve the OPRF problem.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: April 17th, 2018 5:47 PM

@JL. The effort to gain a large pool with the last ref was co-joined, weakly, with a few trinkets (a bigger room for band, etc.). Why? To take the emphasis away from the original effort of knocking down the parking garage SOLELY for the mega-pool. We ALWAYS supported the Stantec plan, but it seemed as if that wasn't good enough for some people. Now we have the Imagine group and once again a mega-pool is included with some not-so-minor-trinkets. And so, once again, the community is being provided with an all or nothing choice. It's the pool AND.....a lot of other things. What has, though, changed since the ref vote was the ref by D97 and the subsequent 10% increase in our prop. tax bill. Throw in the new developments on Lake St - which have provided no tax relief AND the $10,000 max SALT deductions on our Fed 1040 (and thus, essentially, no longer being able to deduct prop taxes) and we have a new reality. Perhaps this partially explains the stagnant local market for real estate?

Nick Polido  

Posted: April 17th, 2018 4:43 PM

I loathe the argument that these buildings built in 1927 and 1967 are so outdated and therefore in need of major renovation and that those who are critical don't care about the kids, theirs or others.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 17th, 2018 4:41 PM

Jacek, if the vote we all had resulted in a YES by only 28 votes, no one on your side would be doing anything but celebrating your enormous victory. Lets get real on that. And recalling it as a false redefinition of what the NO voters were really saying does not work either. No means NO, we do not want our taxes going up for this project. It is a luxury we can do without.

Jacek Lazarczyk  

Posted: April 17th, 2018 4:25 PM

As I recall, the "NO" campaign was telling everyone that they were not against the pool but against an olympic sized, expensive pool. The NO campaign was all for the pragmatic solution. The No campaign prevailed by 28 votes, which, when rounded, is a 50-50 split. However, as a result, the Olympic size natatorium is off the table. Haven't you noticed?

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 17th, 2018 3:58 PM

Hey everyone, Jacek wants a pool and that is that. We had a vote on it, but lets disregard that entirely. So its time for every family in town to pony up an incremental extra $5000 to $10000 over the next ten years in additional property taxes so Jacek gets what he wants. For the kids, all 100 of them on the swim team.

Jacek Lazarczyk  

Posted: April 17th, 2018 3:18 PM

Right, Nick. If the building was good for the kids in 1927 it sure is good for the kids now. Or, rather it is as good as new for those that do not have or do not expect to have kids there.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: April 17th, 2018 3:15 PM

@JL. My parents graduated from OPRF, I graduated from OPRF, my siblings graduated from OPRF, my children graduated from OPRF (09/12) and so, speaking with some experience, yeah, everything that you wrote below is definitely a want and not a need for OPRF (we managed just fine finding our deans and I never heard of any bathroom emergencies). That's before the cost of at least $100M is factored in. I'll end with one definite need - to not have mine (and my neighbors) sky-high property tax bill go any higher. Yeah, that is not a want, but a need. Oh, I'll add one more not-a-need: a competition swimming pool for just 100 or so kids. Those families (nice people) should move to some other town - rather than destroy their neighbors with an even higher prop tax bill.

Nick Polido  

Posted: April 17th, 2018 3:02 PM

Jacek, the plethora of ideas you described as well as the long lists are wants, a need is to educate these students.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: April 17th, 2018 2:48 PM

Michael, Your summary of the Imagine meeting is brilliant and spot-on. Well done!

Jacek Lazarczyk  

Posted: April 17th, 2018 2:20 PM

The drawings presented were at the conceptual stage, addressing the program and layout ideas. This is not the stage when costs or definitive dimensions can be assigned. However, if you walked out from the meeting with the copy of the presentation or found it on-line, you could infer that the area of the proposed pool appears to be 1.5 x times the existing pool (East or West) about 8 lanes wide by 35 to 40 meters, my guess. Smaller volume of water than the existing two pools combined. Monica, why didn't you ask one of the architects that were there. They live and breathe scales and dimensions. With the plethora of issues presented, how do you go about deciding which is a "want" and which is a "need"? Is having a dedicated stagecraft area next to the auditorium a need? Is adding a bathroom in the north section a want? Is having counselors relocated centrally to the second floor a need? Is combining a library that is split between two floors into welcoming space on the second floor a want? Is having music practice rooms located next to the auditorium a need? Is having larger field house a want? What about separate multipurpose gyms and bigger lockers? That list is long.

Michael O'Malley from Oak Park  

Posted: April 17th, 2018 2:05 PM

I too was at last night's Imagine OPRF dog and pony show. No costs were mentioned. Questions were discouraged, unless you buttonholed one of the presenters. I saw all the pretty pictures and left early. I don't want to take away anything from the members of the committee, they all put in a lot of time. But I left feeling I had just attended a time-share sales pitch.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: April 17th, 2018 1:35 PM

Jacek, From your post, it seems that you have misread a comment. All of the comments below were posted prior to last night's meeting, and all of the information I posted is fact-based. In response to your question, yes, I attended the meeting last night as well as the two prior Imagine "Community Conversation" meetings, which again are mislabeled as they included no open group discussion or "conversation", no public Q&A. I'm delighted that you are raising the issue of the size of the pool because it's a big one. I did ask two members of the Imagine group responsible for making the recommendation on the pool about its size as it was not listed on the posters, and it was not stated in the presentation. The first Imagine group member said he wasn't sure of the size, but he did know that it was "a competition pool with a diving well, probably a 35-meter or a 40-meter pool". The second Imagine group member smiled and was evasive regarding the pool's size, but said it was "the same size pool in all three plans". Here's my question to the Imagine group: how do you not know definitively the size of the proposed pool? And, Jacek, let's be clear, any pool larger than the standard-size high school competition pool, 8-lanes, 25-yards, is a "want" of the aquatic teams not a "need" of the school. And, Nick is correct. There were no costs associated with any of the "concepts", and it was a waste of my time.

Nick Polido  

Posted: April 17th, 2018 1:19 PM

Yes I attended....Not sure what to make of the Imagine proposals? Not having costs associated to any of these proposals was a waste of my time.

Jacek Lazarczyk  

Posted: April 17th, 2018 10:47 AM

Have any of you, commenting below, attended the presentation last night (4/16)? In the proposals, I have not seen the 50 meter olympic size pool you are talking about. The proposed pool, fitting within the athletic facility's footprint is rather a pragmatic solution if I may. Its location in the lower (below grade) level allows for the expansion of the Field House and addition of couple of multipurpose gyms. Would you rather get rid of the pool altogether?

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: April 16th, 2018 3:38 PM

Neal, I appreciate your support of my efforts. While I wish local reporters would cover all stories of importance fully, investigating leads when needed, they clearly don't have the time to do so. It's up to residents to fill this void. Your post about "wants vs. needs" is key to this discussion about proposals to upgrade OPRF's facility, and it's currently trending on Facebook, "Oak Park Property Tax Watch". It highlights the fact that the Imagine group has been operating without parameters, priorities or budget constraints, and the concern that a proposal price tag may soar north of $100 million. According to an administration official, the Imagine group's architects, Perkins + Will, were hired in part for the firm's ability to help schools pass referendums after failed ones. That concerns me. I thought architects were hired solely on their design skills, not their touted ability to push through referendums. The architect selection for the Imagine group was to have been a neutral one, according to the school board, but that is not the case. The Perkins' Request for Qualifications response stated that many of its Chicago office live in the district and it even referenced a quote from a former pool parent, likely the Perkins employee pictured on its website who was a leader of the pool lobby and who reintroduced the Natatorium Proposal to the school board in September 2013. The proposal urged the school board to build a 50-meter pool, then a 40-meter pool on the site of the garage. This same Perkins employee was appointed to the 2014 Pool Site Committee and encouraged the school board to bypass voters to avoid a referendum on funding an oversized pool. The administration shared none of this information, none of this bias, with the school board in recommending Perkins for the position. And, there are still other transparency issues regarding Perkins and the administration:

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: April 15th, 2018 9:17 PM

Nick, That's correct. Lynn was the paid manager of the Vote Yes Campaign, and she is a co-chair of the Imagine group. Yet, what is more telling, more important than who is co-chairing the Imagine group is the composition of its subgroup that will make the recommendation regarding a pool. According to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the subgroup is overwhelmingly made up of known Big Pool supporters and school employees. The latter group is unlikely to oppose a Big Pool, just as the school employees on the 2014 internal pool committee recommended that OPRF build a 50-meter, Olympic-size pool on the garage site, the number one choice of the swim team parents, athletes and coaches as outlined in their 2013 Natatorium Proposal. While Imagine is looking at the needs of the entire building, unlike past efforts, the swimming pool is undeniably a driver of the process. Another FOIA request to review the Request for Qualification (RFQ) responses of the three finalists to provide architectural consulting services to Imagine revealed that the winner, Perkins + Will, was the only firm to feature a swimming pool on its cover.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: April 15th, 2018 8:07 PM

Monica - Lynn Kamenitsa was paid $5,000 by the "Vote Yes D200 Facilities Referendum Committee" for consulting and campaign work back in 2017. ( How much does that weigh?

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 15th, 2018 4:35 PM

The Vote YES Group just renamed as Imagine OPRF, disregarding the entire election process. No means no.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: April 15th, 2018 1:01 PM

Thanks, Monica, for doing the work to keep us informed. Our household no longer has kids in school, and we do't use the park district programs. We have been here over 40 years, but are concerned that the coming tax increases will overwhelm most Oak Park families. The needs of the communuty are very different from the wants. I hope this Imagine group recommends the needs of the high school, and not the wants.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: April 15th, 2018 10:07 AM

(Continued from below) One final note, a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that the Imagine subgroup assessing the interior athletic facilities, including the pool, is overwhelmingly stacked with known Big Pool supporters and employees. It's always important to consider the source in weighing any finding, and that will be especially true when Imagine unveils its pool recommendation.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: April 15th, 2018 10:05 AM

I appreciate the time and effort expended by the members of the community in the Imagine group and am looking forward to seeing the proposed facility options at the meeting Monday night. After the February meeting, I asked for the group's research of the school's "current and expected future pool needs", which should logically include best practices for high school p.e. swimming programs. The administration replied that it was "beyond the scope of the Imagine group". Yet, how can this group identify true needs without researching and incorporating best practices? For the last seven months, this group has reportedly been researching the school's current and future pool needs. Where's the research? The administration's response underscores that no one has conducted research into the school's aquatic needs, and no one is addressing OPRF's antiquated, mandatory swimming requirement. No other known high school requires a staggering 18-weeks of swimming for every student, regardless of a student's ability to swim. OPRF's swimming requirement is not based on best practices in the 21st century. According to an internet search, it takes about 20 hours of instruction, on average, to learn how to swim. Yet, OPRF requires every student to take 90 hours of swimming, that's a whopping 4 1/2 times the number of hours needed to teach a non swimmer to swim. And, more than 50% of OPRF students already know how to swim. The administration and school board clung to the outdated swimming requirement in recent years in an attempt to justify building an oversized pool, most recently a 40-meter pool with 70% more pool water than a standard-size high school competition pool. We'll soon see whether Imagine tries the same tactic. One final note, a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that the Imagine subgroup assessing the interior athletic facilities, including the pool, is overwhelmingly stacked with known Big Pool supporters and employees. It's always important to consid

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